I had been a crane operator since 1970 working in Australia for three years then back in the UK. The early 1970`s was when the Oil Boom really began to take off in the North Sea mainly using American expertise, the work was dangerous, and the pay was good.
First time offshore
I was offered a job by Moran Int. working as a Crane Operator on Alpha platform starting 2 January 1975 and the terms were a one-year contract as a Crane Operator / Supervisor which involved operating the cranes and overseeing the deck crew (Roustabouts). We all worked 8 days on and 8 days off, 12 hour shifts midnight to midday one tour and midday to midnight the next tour. I was to replace another English crane driver named Mike Drake who had quit and was waiting on Alpha platform with his bags packed ready to go!
On arrival on the platform, I was due to start the midday shift, so I only had a couple of hours to familiarise myself with the cranes, Alpha had two big American Bucyrus hydraulic cranes one was 40-ton lift capacity the other 60-ton capacity both with 120ft boom. I did a changeover with crane driver Mike which involved him showing me the controls and giving me the basic `What to Do` information he then wished me Good Luck.! and with a handshake and a wave went off to catch the helicopter. (He returned later in the year and worked on either Bravo or Delta)
A wall of fire
Fast forward to November 1st. I had a good team of roustabouts working with me including the Pusher (Team Leader) Handeland, we were all mates who worked well together and our job for that shift was unloading 10m long x 600mm steel casing tubes from a supply boat. The work was fast and continuous lifting off two or three at a time with little time for any break and as I swung the crane around to drop the hook to the boat the platform shook and I was suddenly met with a wall of fire coming from under the deck and reaching half way up the crane boom, I watched as crewmen from the supply boat came on deck with large axes and cut the two large mooring ropes which held the boat to the platform and they were off! We were then on our own.
When I got to my escape station at the rear of the platform, I found both two Survival Capsules were on fire which only left the one remaining Capsule at the other end of the platform next to the Drill Tower and one lifeboat and by the time I got to the remaining capsule it had already been launched later found to have dropped due to human error.
All that was left to rescue the remaining 50 – 60 crew was the wooden lifeboat. Thankfully the initial blast and fire had subsided a little and the lifeboat looked undamaged, so we waited while the remaining crew made it into the lifeboat and then realised someone had to get OUT of the boat and manually release the large counterweight lever to control the descent, step forward John an Electrician (Sparky) from Grimsby UK. who volunteered to launch the lifeboat and stay behind on the platform and as he launched he shouted `Make Sure You Come Back For Me`, he was the TRUE hero of the day. Our safety training on the platform was for the Capsules not the lifeboat so the lifeboat launch was new to us, the descent was stop and start but we made it.
Again more `Good Luck` as the sea was calm with hardly any swell or waves, a normal day would see a 3m-5m swell and had that been the case with the lifeboat being overloaded and sitting low in the water things might have been very different as most of us did not even have a life vest and I cannot swim!
We made our way to the Supply Boat which was waiting some distance away and offloaded the crew then myself and three Norwegian Alpha crew went back for John and it was then we could see the full extent of the damage to the platform, fires were still burning and the entire platform was burnt black, a witness from one of the other platforms later described the blast as like a seeing a cooking pot on a gas stove!. John was waiting and he had found a Spanish steward who must have somehow slept through the blast and was just dressed in his underwear and wearing no shoes and the only way off the platform for them was the one remaining intact rope ladder as all the others had either been burnt or too were too short. We brought the lifeboat to the bottom of the ladder and waited while keeping an eye on the fires under the platform as that was where the large Diesel Fuel storage tanks were located, John slowly helped the steward down the rope ladder which was a 30m drop into the lifeboat and with a huge sigh of relief we were off back to the supply boat.
We all re-united on Charlie platform where we sadly learnt some of our team had been killed or injured in the capsule failure. My very good friend Norvald Handeland who was my Roustabout Pusher was injured, and the two killed were my friends Ed White an American driller and Norwegian roustabout Trom Berbom.
After the accident
We were later taken by helicopter back to Stavanger where we were medically checked and then booked into the Esso Hotel with instruction eat and drink what you like, we partied all night.
Our company were brilliant to us, and they even got a major store in Stavanger to open on the next day (Sunday) where we all got new clothes as all of us got off the platform with just the clothes on our back, another night in the hotel then we were given airline tickets / travel documents and cash and for me it was back home to Hull.
I never went back to work in the Oil industry instead I opened a Military Surplus shop in Hull in 1976 and I successfully traded in Military Surplus and Aviation Equipment until my retirement in 2014.
John did not come back with us to the UK, and I think he stayed in Stavanger, and we never met again.Fire on Ekofisk 2/4 APhillips head office moves to Tananger