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Hillsborough medical examiner: Two dead at TECO plant were power-washing near slag tank

TAMPA — Both men killed Thursday at the Big Bend Power Station in Apollo Beach were using pressure washers moments before lava-like slag gushed out of a tank and burned them, according to preliminary reports released Saturday by the Hillsborough County Medical Examiner.

The reports do not list an official cause of death for either man, but both were "covered in slag," the reports said.

Molten slag can reach temperatures of more than 1,000 degrees. Officials for Tampa Electric said workers were trying to unplug the clogged tank when the accident occurred.

RELATED: In an instant, molten slag gushed over workers at Tampa Electric power plant

Both Michael McCort, 60, a senior plant manager, and Christopher Irvin, 40, a contract employee, died at the scene. Five others were transported to Tampa General Hospital.

Pressure washing is one of two common ways to clean out the inside of a slag tank, said Walter Godfrey, the president of Fire/Reconstruction Consultants Inc. in Cape Canaveral, which investigates fires and explosions.

"It's like using a sandblasting unit, except you're using water instead," he said.

McCort's family declined to speak with reporters. His daughter, Heather McCort, posted on Facebook Saturday morning that her father lost his life "helping others and being a hero."

"The world lost such a wonderful man, husband, grandfather and friend," she wrote.

Irvin's family also declined to speak with a reporter Saturday, saying they were in mourning. Irvin was never married, but was a father to one child and was expecting another, the medical examiner wrote. He worked for Gaffin Industrial Services in Riverview, one of Tampa Electric's contractors at the plant.

In 2007, a Gaffin employee was killed in White Springs while using a power washer to clean the inside of a hot-well tank, according to an investigation by the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration. The worker accidentally clipped his leg with the stream of water, which was so powerful that it cut his femoral artery. Gaffin was fined $35,000.

Four workers injured at the Tampa Electric plant remained in the hospital Saturday with life-threatening burns: Antonio Navarrete, 21, and Armando J. Perez, 56, both of Wimauma; and two Tampa men related by marriage, Frank Lee Jones, 55, and his stepson, Gary Marine Jr., 32.

RELATED: Father and stepson both severely injured in Tampa Electric Co. accident>

Marine and Jones worked for Gaffin, like Irvin, the Times reported Friday. Navarrete and Perez worked for BRACE Industrial Group, the Times reported, along with an unidentified fifth worker, who was treated at the hospital and released.

McCort was the only worker who was a Tampa Electric employee.

Family members for the surviving workers could not be reached or declined to comment Saturday.

Tampa Electric spokeswoman Cherie Jacobs said the company could not release new information about the accident Saturday. "This is a very complex investigation and we are unable to provide updates," she said.

Two investigators from OSHA have started an investigation that could last six months.

Times staff writer Taylor Telford contributed to this story. Contact Sara DiNatale at sdinatale@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8862. Follow @sara_dinatale.Follow @sara_dinatale.

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