Ekofisk tank installedThe first oil crisis

Helicopter ditches in the sea

person by Kristin Øye Gjerde, Norwegian Petroleum Museum
A helicopter en route from Gulftide to the Forus heliport outside Stavanger on 9 July 1973 never reached its destination. Four of the 17 people on board lost their lives.
— Sikorsky S-61N helicopter. Photo: Odd Noreger/Norwegian Petroleum Museum
© Norsk Oljemuseum

Teddy Broadhurst was a witness to this accident:

The machine which made an emergency landing on the sea was flying in from Ekofisk, while I was on my way out by helicopter. We’d covered a good part of the distance when the pilot came back to the cabin. Helicopters didn’t have loudspeaker systems at that time. He said we had lost one of our machines and would have to go down and look out to see if we could spot it.

The helicopter was located within 10-15 minutes. It lay on its back. At that time, [operator] Helikopter Service had a contact with the rescue service, and the first thing we saw was ‘Rescue Service’ emblazoned on the machine’s side and underbelly.

Only one person had died when we arrived, but another we didn’t know about was inside the machine. The problem was that we had no hoist. But we had two rafts and lifejackets which we could throw out.

We descended to the crashed helicopter and threw out one raft, pulling on the cord to inflate it because the people in the water looked pretty far gone. But we shouldn’t have done that, because the downdraft from the rotors blew the raft far away. So they failed to get hold of it.

So we took the next raft and decided not to inflate it. Those in the water got hold of it and pulled the cord. Their helicopter had suffered a very hard landing, because it had lost the tail rotor and one pontoon had broken off.

A number of the survivors were gripping the detached pontoon. The current meant that this drifted faster than the fuselage, so that the survivors became split into two groups. We flew over to the other lot and dropped lifejackets down to them, which they all eventually managed to put on. But it took a while before the rescue helicopter arrived from Sola Airport. We knew most of those in the water, of course.

I remember one person who was seated beside me. It was his first trip offshore, and when he looked down and saw the Rescue Service markings, he stammered: ‘Does this sort of thing happen often?” He was completely wrecked, and this was his last trip as well. We never saw him again. People have quit after both major and minor helicopter accidents since then.[REMOVE]Fotnote: Teddy Broadhurst interviewed by Kristin Øye Gjerde, 2002.

Egil Berle was another eyewitness to this first helicopter accident on the Norwegian continental shelf:

On one of the flights, we had to land on Ocean Viking to refuel. We had just taken off from there when one of the pilots came back and said that a helicopter crash had been reported. We had to keep a lookout for it. A straight line had already been established from Stavanger to Ekofisk with checkpoints – Alpha, Bravo and Charlie. This helicopter had not reported that it was at Checkpoint Charlie.

So we flew towards that point and found it after 15-16 minutes. It lay on its back in the water. We saw a lot of people in the sea, and the wind was rising towards gale strength. Nobody had a survival suit on at that time, nor were they wearing lifejackets.

We tried to throw a raft down to them, but the waves had become so high that they couldn’t see it. I talked to the pilot again, and we agreed to fly even closer to the survivors. Then we threw out a raft, virtually in their laps. I knew those who were down there, after all, and one of those who got the raft in their laps said afterwards: ‘you damn well tried to hit us’.

We lost four friends on that occasion …

After we reached land, I said to the lads that I think it’s best you call home now. This will have been on the news, and somebody will have got worried then. Just call home and say everything’s fine, then we’ll refuel and head out again.

This was an abrupt start for many, and a powerful experience. And I know that several of those who were then employed didn’t want to fly by helicopter. Some did nevertheless, and were not happy. Many people are reluctant to travel to and from by helicopter.

Berle admits that this initial helicopter accident in the North Sea left its mark. He explains that US safety man Andy Anderson was very interested in getting him over to the safety department.

I wasn’t so keen because I thought it was much more interesting to work on production. That offered more challenges, and I was able to make full use of my experience and training as an instructor in the armed forces.

But Anderson didn’t give up and kept on at me. After the helicopter crash, I had constant conversations with him. He asked me what we should do, how we could protect the people and so on. We agreed people should have a wet suit. That was the best way to protect against the cold.

We obtained old charts the Germans had produced during the Second World War which showed water temperatures in the sea area. They indicated the temperatures we should actually protect against if we landed in the sea. The wet suit was thereby introduced, and people began to use them.

he first wet suits were actually adopted as early as the autumn of 1973. We subsequently collaborated with Helly Hansen, and later with other suppliers. We’ve secured suits which provide fully acceptable protection for the period we know we’ll need to be able to save people. Emergency preparedness down to the present time has improved internationally, and includes all the countries around the North Sea basin.[REMOVE]Fotnote: Egil Berle interviewed by Kristin Øye Gjerde, 2002.


Ekofisk tank installedThe first oil crisis
Published 24. May 2019   •   Updated 7. October 2019
© Norsk Oljemuseum
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