123 never came backWhat happened to Henrik Ibsen?

Survived the Alexander L. Kielland disaster

person Told to Sue Jane Taylor. The interview is kept at the Oil Lives Archives, University of Aberdeen
My name is Tony Sylvester. One of the platforms that I was working on was in the Ekofisks, it was the Alfa 2/4 F and I worked for a company at the time that was doing 3 platforms, We’d installed them and hooking up all the pipe work and stuff like that. On that job I was a general foreman and looking after all the trades, installing pipe work, steel work and stuff like that. We’d had an accommodation semi-submersible which was alongside one of the platforms; we was shuttling every day to that platform because there was no accommodation on the platforms we worked at. And that platform was called the Alexander Kielland.
Tony Sylvester onboard Alexander L. Kielland.
— Tony Sylvester onboard Alexander L. Kielland.
© Norsk Oljemuseum

In 1980 in the winter of March we were fogged off with the weather so we couldn’t get over to the platform, the helicopters wasn’t flying. It was an unusual day because it was fog and it was a gale force 10 which is very rarely see fog with a gale force 10, but this was one of them very unusual days and the semi-submersible had a bridge over to the fixed platform [Edda], with the weather being so bad it had to pull away on its anchors so that it lifted its bridge to pull away from the platform so that there was no danger for the semi hitting the platform.

At the time it was pulling away most of the guys were in the cinema including myself. A movie had just started, and we was sitting there and there was a big loud bang then a jerk with the semi-submersible and then suddenly it had dropped and it was just total darkness and chairs flying about and people shouting, and it was just so confusing and I managed to I see a light or an opening of some sort. It was pitch black and I could just see this light so I managed to make my way to the light not realizing what had happened.

It was just so quick and chaotic if you like. And then when I managed to get to there, I noticed it was a door, and I went through the door and there was lots of people trying to get up the stairs but the stairs was all the wrong way round if you like because the semi was leaning over at a 60 degree angle, I was wasn’t quite sure what had happened until I actually managed to get out onto the deck, and it was just stuff sliding about and it was, one of the legs had broken off and it was on the back anchor wires and the anchor wires was holding it, and stopping it tipping right over.

So I managed to climb to the highest point of the semi which was very difficult because there were lots of oil and stuff, barrels and containers and things like that sliding about and lots of people just trying to get to the highest point really.

I managed to get to the highest point which was a hand rail, and most people were just hanging onto it but it was so cold and windy and I had a T-shirt on and a pair of jeans and a pair of trainers on at the time and I got to the hand rail that I was hanging onto and looked round and thought well there was nothing that could get to us because there was fog, there was a gale force 10, so there was no boats that could get to us, there was nothing , even if we’ve stayed in that position there was no I couldn’t see anybody getting to us. The platform was the Edda platform and there was something like 150 people on there, and most of them was leaning over the hand rail watching us, we was about, maybe about 300/400 yards away from that platform because we’d pulled away from it and couldn’t do a thing you know, they was just watching and throwing life rings and anything that they could get at us but nobody could get to us at all.

I was aware that the accommodation was leaning over at an angle, it was temporary accommodation and there was an escape ladder at the back of it and I was aware of where my room was, and I knew my survival suit was in my room, and I actually went back into my room and went up this stair and went back into my room to get my survival suit which was under a table in a black plastic bag. When I managed to get in the room and get hold of it I could hear the doors pushing open in the other cabins with the pressure of the water so I realized that we was actually tipping over at that point, and so I managed to get back out of the accommodation but I didn’t have me survival suit or anything on.

And as I was going out of the accommodation it was actually tipping over, so I pushed myself into the water and I had no life jacket on, no survival suit.

Once I got into the water the fixed crane on the semi was coming over and the derrick of the crane was coming on top of me. So I managed just to swim clear of it and it actually caught me on me back of my leg, the boom of the crane caught me on the back of the leg.

So I consider myself very lucky because one, I should never have gone back in the accommodation, but by going in the accommodation, the anchor wires that were holding the platform (semi) from tippling over they snapped and killed a lot of the people that was in the position where I should have been.

Then when I came out I had no survival or life jacket on and if I had them on, the boom of the crane was coming down on me, I wouldn’t have been able to swim clear of it. Anyway I managed to get clear of it and as I say it was gale force 10 and it was just big waves and I could see the platform but there was no way I could get anywhere near it was just washing me away from it.

Vest-Ekofisk 2/4 D
Engine maintenance on a lifeboat on West Ekofisk 2/4 D. Photo: Husmo Photo/Norwegian Petroleum Museum

And I actually saw a piece of rope in the water I just could see a piece of rope over, with the white tops of the waves and I grabbed the piece of rope and pulled myself along it thinking I had to get out of the water because it was so cold. I pulled myself along and I didn’t know what it was but I got to this thing that was floating so I just managed to climb onto it and as I climbed onto it, it turned round to the weather and flipped over and it was one of the inflatable rafts, you know the ones that are in the white domes? It was one of those, so it flipped over,

I managed to get into it but there were people all around me so, lots of people all in the water , so I managed to get 7 people in, so that was including myself that was 8 of us in.

And then as we was in it there was a supply vessel that, they had come to the scene and I have only ever seen supply vessels from looking down on a vessel but when I was in this little tiny life raft, and I was looking up at it and this thing was going up and it as it went down, its screwer at the back was enormous and I was thinking God, if thing was coming near us we’ve had it.

But fortunately we was pushed away from it and we were, I think it was something like 6 miles before they picked us up and we was in it for 5 and a half hours, the life raft and then a helicopter came above us. I was conscious that some of the guys had been hurt in the life raft you know it was full of water. So we was sitting in water and I think all the time I was there, it was the time that I only had any thoughts that I had been in danger all the other times I think I was probably in shock more calm than anything else and not thinking of anything than other going forward you know. There were lots of things happening all around me but it wasn’t really registering if you like.

The helicopter winch man came down and we’d put the tent round the top of the life raft. I was always conscious that there were 8 people in this life raft and we were getting swung about all over the place like a spinning top on the top of these waves. And I was conscious that I kept myself near the little opening, thinking that if it did tip over I’d could get out of it and the helicopter came above and I see this big light shining down on us and then I see this guy coming out from the sky you know and the first thing I did I grabbed him, his legs as he came down and then suddenly he was 20 foot up in the air and then we was down there, and he had about 8 goes to try and get at us and he just couldn’t get anywhere near us, and then he actually undid his harness and dropped in the water alongside me and I just thought God no, he’s in the same position as me now,

I was pulling him in the life raft, so I pulled him in the life raft, he did everything , he made sure everybody was okay and he got radioed and he got the winch wire back to us and he got everyone of us out and very courageous you know and then we was taken back to the central platform and put on there till the morning and there was 123 people killed.

There were 89 people who had survived which was really, really unbelievable you know when you see the conditions and the area, absolutely.

And the strange thing was last year which was 2013 I had been back in the Ekofisk working for Hereema for 5 years taking platforms down and I actually went back to the platform that we were alongside and we took the platform down and we took the jacket out and everything and you know it was quite strange you know going back there.

I had to go into the accommodation on the platform. A platform when you’re decommissioning it, it is totally different; it’s all sort of noises on a live platform but when it’s ready for decommissioning it is so quiet and so strange you know and I was like the first person to go over there because we had to make safe on the platform and it was very, I don’t like to say this as a North Sea Tiger but scary. (laugh, pause) Yeh!

123 never came backWhat happened to Henrik Ibsen?
Published 2. January 2022   •   Updated 6. February 2023
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