It seems incredible to think that it’s a quarter of a century since 167 people lost their lives in the explosion on the Piper Alpha oil platform.
Today Michael Moore as Secretary of State for Scotland, laid a wreath on behalf of the UK Government at the memorial in Aberdeen. Ahead of this, he said:
It is important that we never forget those who have lost their lives in our oil and gas industry. 25 years on from Piper Alpha, the loss of 167 lives is something that families and communities across the whole country are still coming to terms with.Since the tragedy, we have been learning the lessons to make sure this never happens again.We must remain committed to working with the oil and gas sector, the trade unions and others to ensure that we have the highest possible standards of health and safety for all of our offshore workers.
Abandoned. One word that changed everything in an instant.
It was not an expression any of us in the BBC’s Aberdeen newsroom had ever heard used about an oil platform. Evacuated yes. Abandoned no. Not until Piper Alpha.
It was the moment that July night that my more experienced colleagues in the newsroom stopped and looked at me almost in disbelief. Or perhaps it was hope that I had misheard the coastguard.
Abandoned would mean the situation was hopeless, far worse than anything anyone was prepared for.
Almost in the same instant Jane Franchi was told the installation was completely ablaze and our worst fears were confirmed.
It is often claimed that our imagination conjures up images that are more frightening than reality. Not with Piper Alpha.
None of us could possibly have pictured anything as bad as what we later saw on film, or heard about from survivors.
She gives an insight into how a newsroom tackles such events:
I had been tidying up the last of the prep for the morning in the BBC’s Aberdeen newsroom when I got a call from Glasgow. A radio ham on the west coast claimed there was something wrong on a North Sea platform. Could I check it out?
It was the third time that week. But this time it wasn’t a false alarm.
No-one was clear exactly what was happening but there was a problem. A big one. A security guard at Occidental told me their emergency response team was on its way into the office and the police had been notified.
I called our producer and within minutes our news team in Aberdeen were mobilised. And then the coastguard used that word. Abandoned.
As the most inexperienced member of the team I mostly watched and learned in the newsroom, at the hospital heliport and then later at the airport hotel where survivors described the hell they had been through. I phoned who I was told, did what was needed and ran where I had to.
In the car on the way to the heliport Jane Franchi gently suggested how I should behave, what I should record and what I should not, and above all what I must not say.
“Remember the families of these men are listening to us,” she said. It’s advice that stayed with me throughout my career.
I remember too the waiting, the fear for the first time of what this career I had chosen might force me to see.
You can read the rest of her powerful article here.
* Caron Lindsay is Co-Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings