Piper Alpha

filed under | accident | deadly


Piper Alpha was a North Sea oil production platform operated by Occidental Petroleum (Caledonia) Ltd. The platform began production in 1976, first as an oil platform and then later converted to gas production. An explosion and resulting fire destroyed it on July 6, 1988, killing 167 men, with only 59 survivors. The death toll includes 2 crewmen of a rescue vessel.[4] Total insured loss was about 1.7 billion (US$ 3.4 billion). To date it is the world's worst offshore oil disaster in terms both of lives lost and impact to industry. At the time of the disaster the platform accounted for around 10% of the oil and gas production from the North Sea. A new gas pipeline was built in the weeks before the 6 July explosion, and while this work disrupted the normal routine, the platform was operated as normal. The discovery of a small gas leak was not unusual and no cause for concern. Because the platform was completely destroyed, and many of those involved died, analysis of events can only suggest a possible chain of events based on known facts. Some witnesses to the events question the official timeline. Emergency procedures instructed personnel to make their way to lifeboat stations, but the fire prevented them from doing so. Instead the men moved to the fireproofed accommodation block beneath the helicopter deck to await further instructions. Wind, fire and smoke prevented helicopter landings and no further instructions were given, with smoke beginning to penetrate the personnel block. As the crisis mounted, two men donned protective gear in an attempt to reach the diesel pumping machinery below decks and activate the firefighting system. They were never seen again. The fire would have burnt out were it not being fed new oil from both Tartan and the Claymore platforms, the resulting back pressure forcing fresh fuel out of ruptured pipework on Piper, directly into the heart of the fire. The Claymore continued pumping until the second explosion because the manager had no permission from the Occidental control centre to shut down. The nearby diving support vessel Lowland Cavalier reported the initial explosion just before 22:00, and the second explosion occurred just twenty two minutes later. By the time civil and military rescue helicopters reached the scene, flames over one hundred metres in height and visible as far as one hundred km (120 km from the Maersk Highlander) away prevented safe approach. Tharos, a specialist firefighting vessel, was able to approach the platform, but could not prevent the rupture of the Tartan pipeline, about two hours after the start of the disaster and was forced to retreat due to the severity of the fire. Two crewmen from the standby vessel MV Sandhaven Fast Rescue Craft were killed when an explosion on the platform destroyed their Fast Rescue Craft, the Survivor Ian Letham later received the George Medal. The largest number of survivors were recovered to the standby vessel MV Silver Pit , the coxswain (James Clark) of the MV Silver Pit Fast Rescue Craft later received the George Medal. The blazing remains of the platform were eventually extinguished three weeks later by a team led by famed firefighter Red Adair, despite reported conditions of 80 mph (130 km/h) winds and 70-foot (20 m) waves. [READ THE REST OF THIS ARTICLE]

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