Moore and Jardine remember Piper Alpha disaster 25 years on

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.
Christine Jardine, who recently stood in the Aberdeen Donside by-election, was, at the time of the tragedy, working in the BBC newsroom in Aberdeen. She writes of the emotions as the horror unfolded in today’s Scotsman.
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

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6 Comments

  • Please don’t politicise this. All political parties and relevant organisations will be comemerating this, not just just lib dems

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 7th Jul '13 - 9:45am

    G, I’m not politicising this at all – as this is a site read by many Liberal Democrats, it’s natural that our readers would want to find out what our people were doing.

    I thought Christine’s piece was incredibly powerful – not political at all, but a very human insight as to what goes on in a newsroom when that sort of horror is unfolding, which is why I wanted to include it.

  • Shows you how important Health and Safety is abnd how easily it is circumvented.

    There was a report in one of the paper’s recently from a whistleblower saying how standards are becoming more and more lax

    Makes the following policy seem a bit short-sighted but plays to the prejudices of your friends in the Tory Party

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2011/mar/21/health-safety-inspections-cut-third

  • I really hope that this never happens again

  • Simon Banks 7th Jul '13 - 4:21pm

    There is a lot in the Piper Alpha disaster we should learn from, perhaps above all how not to handle a disaster (which is not to say that some aspects of the response weren’t brave and speedy). Management on the spot was not prepared to shut down the rig without authorisation from Aberdeen, who could not be reached. This situation should have been envisaged and planned for. Unfortunately over and over again people react to extreme events by thinking within familiar boxes or assuming the worst can’t happen. Consider the police at Hillsborough who were used to fans attempting to invade the pitch, interpreted fans climbing the fence to escape crushing as crowd disorder and pushed them back. Consider the architects of the twin towers, who actually imagined an aircraft hitting one of the towers, but did not allow for the size of aircraft increasing (a quite predictable development) or for the quite likely situation (even with an accident) that the aircraft would have a full load of aviation fuel.

  • Sfk

    Accidents will continue to happen, including serious ones. Risks can be mitigated but not eliminated totally

    As Simon says we can learn and implement learning into our risk management processes. What is also clear is that these need to be policed and cutting the HSE is shortsighted and wrong.

    The nonsense you read about ‘red tape’ and ‘HSE gorn mad’ is very dangerous in protecting us from these risks.

    We will always carry out hazardous activities and these need to have their risks adequately assessed.

    Exporting these risks to the developing world should also be considered as unacceptable

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