Orkney Sound Archive tape OSA/RO/A: interview on `Sharing Time' show. Sample containing about 4825 words speech recorded in leisure context

2 speakers recorded by respondent number C362

PS2V2 X m (No name, age unknown, radio presenter, Interviewer) unspecified
PS2V3 Ag2 m (Erlend, age 30+, oil rig worker, Interviewee) unspecified

1 recordings

  1. Tape 103103 recorded on 1986. LocationOrkney: Kirkwall ( Radio broadcast ) Activity: Interview on 'Sharing Time' show Interview/reminiscences

Undivided text

(PS2V2) [1] This week our guest on Sharing Time is Erlend who is one of the survivors of the Piper Alpha disaster and is one who has come back to Orkney this last week, staying with his family here in Orkney.
[2] First of all, looking back on those harrowing times of the sixth of July, what do you remember about the incident [...] Erlend?
Erlend (PS2V3) [3] Well it was at night and I mean I was lucky enough to be working which is a thing that's probably accounted for saving a lot of people [...] .
[4] Most of the survivors were ones who were working at the time.
[5] And I was working upstairs in er what's called the gascon module, Which was shut down at the time for repair work and things like that.
[6] And a call came over the radio that there was a problem with one of the pumps downstairs, so seeing I had nothing better to do at that time I went downstairs to give them a hand.
[7] Which again is a part of the luck which probably saved me and er when I got down to the pump which was directly below where the explosion occurred, there was about three or four of us there and er as I said that the only indication that we got out it was a an enormous bang just directly overhead.
[8] And there was dust and everything went black, all the lights went out, so I mean from that w we could ascertain that it was fairly serious what had happened.
[9] And er we moved away to the side of the platform to get out from underneath whatever had happened and had a look around.
[10] There was nothing visible downstairs where we were, so immediately went up the stairs at the side to the production level where the blast had come from, and there we met a group of people who had just come out of the control room and they were cut and suffering from shock 'cos the blast had obviously well it d nearly blown the control room apart.
[11] I mean the doors were hanging on their hinges then, things like that.
[12] And by the time we got there we could see a fire round at the back of the the crane pedestal which was in B module where most of the oil separation plant is.
[13] And er at that stage we tried the fire hydrants but I mean there was no water in the pumps the electric pumps there was no ele electric power 'cos the elec electric er generator was blown to bits, well they weren't working anyway.
[14] And er the diesel pumps weren't on and er there was a couple of guys putting on breathing apparatus and trying to get in to restart them, but I mean by this stage the smoke was so thick they couldn't even find where the pumps were.
[15] You can hardly see your hand in front of your face and er I mean there was no way to fight the fire, so I mean all we could do was sort of stand back and look 'cos we were up There was about At that stage there was twenty or thirty of us standing in this north west corner of the platform.
[16] And er th the fire was getting that bad that I mean the smoke was blowing directly across the platform at that stage.
[17] And er take a couple of steps away from the corner you couldn't see your a thing, so we were more or less stuck where we where.
[18] We could go downstairs to the sixty eight foot level [...] was er er fog horn and lighting system for in the fog It's a Navaid system they call it.
[19] And er that was a platform down there.
[20] And off that there was a big knotted rope which c was thrown down.
[21] And er [...] guys started to go down that to the twenty foot level where they were picked up by an inflatable off the standby boat.
[22] But I mean it was about twenty to thirty [...] guys as I said.
[23] And I mean as they went down we got the the diver, so there was a few of them there.
[24] And er the ones out of the control room they managed to get down [...] that stage we would be about half an hour after it, after the initial blast.
[25] And be about five or six of us left then, and we were just getting ready to get off when we got hit by the second big blast, which caused most of the burns to all of us then.
[26] And at that stage it was too late to go down the rope so it was just instinct more than anything else that we just jumped over the side from where we were then.
[27] And er after that it was just well every man for himself I never really saw any of the guys except for the o one guy who was on the platform with me at the time.
[28] I saw him when we got picked up off the I mean it was half a lifeboat we were left sitting on.
[29] When we got picked up and he was on it with me then.
[30] But I mean being in the water [...] I had no life jacket or anything like that so it was a matter of trying to keep afloat and er kicking off my boots and getting me overalls [...] .
[31] And er I mean it was all luck everything that sort of happened to me that night anyway I mean it it wasn't so lucky for other people but I suppose most survivors have their their tale or so.
[32] Fortune having smiled on them, and I mean if it hadn't been for a lump of expanded foam out of one of the life boats that had blown up at, if it hadn't come floating past me, I mean I would have been a goner as well, but I got hold of that.
[33] I managed to keep afloat then till, as I said we found this half a lifeboat and there was couple of fellows and er I managed to swim over to that and pull myself up on it and for there the inflatable off the standby boat came alongside, picked us up and put us on then standby boat.
(PS2V2) [34] At that stage then there was accounts of the sea almost being on fire with the oil and the mixture.
[35] What sort of experience How did you find that?
Erlend (PS2V3) [36] Well I never saw the sea on fire but f when we wen went into the sea I mean we were directly beneath the platform, and at that stage I mean the whole platform was on fire.
[37] And we couldn't You couldn't just swim on the surface because if you let any part of your body above the water for any length of time, I mean it just burnt.
[38] So I mean you had to sort of come up, and grab a breath, and go under the water and try and swim away from it.
[39] Which in the sea was pretty futile really, I mean you just had to go where the sea took you.
[40] and luckily it just took us round the side of the platform and away then.
(PS2V2) [41] Were there quite a few vessels around at that time that were giving assistance?
Erlend (PS2V3) [42] Well I can remember when I went Was in the water at the start, there was You could see a lot of boats coming in alongside the platform.
[43] But er it wasn't long after that there was another big bang on the platform and they all sort of turned tail and went away for their own safety.
[44] Which was pretty demoralizing for us that were in the water at the time but [...]
(PS2V2) [45] So at that point then did you almost give up hope that you would be rescued? that you more or less were going to end in the sea at that point?
Erlend (PS2V3) [46] Aye, well I mean that There's there's so many things that go through your mind that In a situation like that.
[47] I mean you've got to try and keep yourself afloat, and then even that's not going to help you, if nobody comes along and picks you up either, so I mean that But I mean I I didn't Oh well I [...] Suppose I could say I gave up hope a few times but obviously if you s The struggle to survive comes through in the long run, and I mean it's it's not easy to give up hope, [...]
(PS2V2) [48] At that stage when you were picked up then, what happened the, where were you taken to after that.
Erlend (PS2V3) [49] Well we were taken up to the standby boat which is I mean every vessel in the North Sea, every rig and installation has a boat that circles it, non stop, twenty four hours a day and I mean that The standby boat on Piper I mean it was the the two inflatable boats off it that picked everybody up, and most folk up, and one of them was lost, they lost two of the crew off that.
[50] I think that was hit by debris off the platform.
[51] But I mean it was it that we were taken to first, and I mean thee was a lot of people on it and I mean it had obviously saved a lot of lives.
[52] And er we were on that for about an hour or so and then they got rid of the the badly injured were taken off then and put on the Therris it's [...] support vessel that was Just happened to be there at the time.
[53] And it and it's emergency hospital on it, and I mean they'd flown doctors out from Aberdeen, and medics off other platforms round about.
(PS2V2) [54] So you were actually Were you taken to Pharros as well?
[55] For treatment [...] ?
Erlend (PS2V3) [56] Mhm.
[57] I was taken here but at the time I mean I wasn't one of the really seriously burnt, I mean I was still conscious and I was still walking around.
[58] And it was just me arm and me hand and me face that were were burnt and and at that the time I mean I wasn't in any pain and I think there was more serious ones to be dealt with.
(PS2V2) [59] At that point then you were airlifted back to a hospital in Aberdeen.
Erlend (PS2V3) [60] Aye.
[61] It were six Five or six o'clock in the morning I think I arrived in Aberdeen at six o'clock.
[62] To Aberdeen Royal Infirmary where I were treated.
[63] Yeah.
(PS2V2) [64] And there'd been quite a number there, obviously in that burns unit, who were suffering from the same type of er injury.
Erlend (PS2V3) [65] Well I mean it's Considering the number of s survivors, there wasn't that many that were burnt.
[66] I mean there were only been about at the most ten who were suffering from burns.
[67] maybe five or six that were quite serious one.
[68] I there was a couple that were really seriously badly burnt, and one of them didn't survive.
(PS2V2) [69] When actually did you sustain your your burns, and you said that was actually on the second blast, [...]
Erlend (PS2V3) [70] Aye that was Well that that was on the platform when I got me face burnt and me left hand, which I think was burnt trying to protect me me head or face at the time.
[71] I don't know how me right hand survived it, I mean it's quite good.
[72] And er after that I think my right arm's got badly burnt.
[73] But I think that was when I was in the sea holding on to the bit of foam, and more or less just let myself float under the water, but me arm was round the top of the bit of foam, on the surface, and I think it got burnt by the the heat off the platform then.
(PS2V2) [74] Obviously you were in hospital for a number of weeks.
[75] What about the treatment that you were given in Aberdeen?
[76] Did you find that they were obviously sympathetic to what happened and the spirit in the hospital would have been quite hight really?
Erlend (PS2V3) [77] Aye.
[78] Well I mean I can't say enough for the people in the Aberdeen Royal Infirmary, I mean they've got a great burns unit there and I mean er er I think the plastic surgeons and what knot are about [...] they must be [...] some of the best in the world.
[79] [laugh] Just looking at what they've done to me.
[80] And er they treated me there I mean I was about two weeks in a room on me own, and taken out then into the main ward for another four weeks.
[81] And I mean the nurses and everybody, the doctors were really great, and they give us the best of treatment there, and I don't think you'll speak to anybody that was in the hospital that'll say anything differently, they were really great.
(PS2V2) [82] Obviously with that number of weeks that you were in hospital, it must have given you plenty of time too, to think about future prospects in a fairly dangerous industry in the North Sea.
[83] What about your feelings now looking back on it?
[84] Do you think that you would like to return to the platform work?
Erlend (PS2V3) [85] Aye well we've all spoken about it before and I mean yo When we were in hospital we spoke together about it and er obviously it's it's it's something you that won't really be able to tell unless you give it try.
[86] And I mean I would like to go offshore again, just to prove to myself whether I could or could not do it.
[87] I mean whether I'll ever work offshore again's another thing, but I would like to to try going offshore [...] I mean then again I mean I reckon I could work offshore no problem at all, but whether I could sleep on the platform is a completely different matter.
(PS2V2) [88] There would always be that fear that it a similar incident might happen and er and that er it was those who were asleep at the time who were unlucky enough not to survive.
Erlend (PS2V3) [89] Well they wasn't the most unlucky.
[90] [laugh] To put it like that.
[91] But er [...] I mean we We've spoken about it before, on the platform, and things like that, that I mean everybody knows the score that if something happens [laughing] if you're [] if you're sleeping you've not got a an excellent chance, put it like that, I mean you er I mean nobody ever expected anything like what happened on piper to to happen any [...] on that scale.
[92] I mean even wh when we saw it ourselves, I mean you couldn't comprehend the scale.
[93] I mean I can remember being underneath the platform, [...] being on fire and I mean I I just kept saying to myself that this wasn't really happening.
(PS2V2) [94] How about the the safety er precautions that were taken on board Piper or in fact on board any oil platform installation.
[95] It wouldn't have been able to cope with such an immediate diaster as as happened on on that night.
Erlend (PS2V3) [96] No I mean I I don't think what happened on Piper can be put down to basic safety.
[97] I mean I don't think it was a gas leak, it wouldn't have caused an explosion to the extent of that.
[98] And at the time, I mean it's half past nine, all work had stopped, mostly at that time of night anyway.
[99] So I mean there was no poor operating but [...] this is going on, I wouldn't have thought.
[100] So I mean it goes down to must be something like equipment failure which is something that nobody can really allow for.
(PS2V2) [101] What sort of safety training had you had for an evacuation or in fact a a slow evacuation from the platform while you were out there?
Erlend (PS2V3) [102] Well I mean, everybody goes to Robert does their off shore survival which takes you into helicopter survival and l launching lifeboats off the platform and life rafts ev and er that done I mean you get your certificates and what not for that and everybody is to get refresher courses every two or three years, I'm not really sure which.
[103] And then on the platform every week there's a evacuation drill where it's usually on a Sunday night or a Saturday night it was changed to recently.
[104] But the platform general alarm goes off and everybody goes to their master stations by the lifeboat.
[105] And then they test the evacuation alarm then, so that everybody knows the alarms and er where to be and then th Every six eight weeks or something they take you for a helicopter evacuation where everybody's taken from the lifeboat master station.
[106] Taken the whole way upstairs to the galley where they go through their er helicopter evacuation drill then.
[107] But er all of that was negated by the fact with the amount of fire and smoke that was on the platform, nobody could get to the lifeboats.
[108] And plus the fact that with the control room had been taken out nobody could sound the general evacuation alarms either, there was no alarms or anything or any warning for anybody on the platform either.
(PS2V2) [109] And as you say at that stage it really was just a matter of erm every man for himself really.
Erlend (PS2V3) [110] Aye well that's it er I mean there was no, as I said there was no alarms for anybody else or anybody who wasn't there really wouldn't have a much of an idea to how drastic it was and what was going on at the time.
[111] As I said you can't envisage or set up emergency procedures for anything as as drastic as what happened there that night.
[112] I mean wh when your whole control room's wiped out and er you can't really expect anything like that.
[113] I mean un unless you make the control room blast proof, which is maybe a thing to be looked in to in the future and then again they're speaking about making the accommodation module separate from the platform itself which is another thing, but I mean that's all to be looked at.
[114] But whether you scrap all the platforms that are at present built in the north sea's another thing all together.
(PS2V2) [115] There has been some criticism of general safety precautions on board rigs and platforms out on the north sea.
[116] Do you have any general feelings about that, do you feel that things could be tightened up?
Erlend (PS2V3) [117] I suppose there's always a room for safety procedures to be tightened up, I mean it's like in any place you work.
[118] Everybody's completely happy with the procedures that that go on.
[119] But er, it's difficult it's difficult at sea.
[120] I mean from rig to rig things work differently and I mean on on Piper, I would say there were probably things that could have been tightened up but then again I don't think they were part and parcel of what happened and there on July the sixth.
(PS2V2) [121] The government has now said that they're going to order oil companies to install shut off valves below platforms.
[122] Do you feel that that would have solved the situation on Piper Alpha altogether or how far would it have gone to perhaps lessening the the blow of the the occasion?
Erlend (PS2V3) [123] It's hard hard to say how much that would have helped the situation out there I mean it definitely would have helped in some degree, but I mean there was still all the oil that was present on the platform in the separators except those which were left under pressure all that would have had to burn.
[124] And er as I've said before, I haven't seen a a barrel of oil burning and the heat and smoke that comes off that you consider the amount of oil that would have been in the separators on the platform at the time, I think it would have still have caused an awful lot of heat and an awful lot of smoke and fire, and er just shutting off the oil coming back to the platform maybe wouldn't have helped that much.
[125] But I mean a any anything in a situation like that's going to help.
(PS2V2) [126] Again, with the time that you were in hospital considering your future, what did your family think about your possibility of you going back out?
Erlend (PS2V3) [127] Well I mean they've never really spoken about it one way or another, encouraged me or discouraged me, which I think I'm grateful for.
[128] I mean [...] if there's a decision to be made I hope they'll just leave it up to me.
[129] I think that and I mean you go with the sort of attitude, that lightning will never strike twice in the same place, but then again I mean who knows?
(PS2V2) [130] Clearly it was a time when so many people were lost, and it was the world's worst oil rig disaster.
[131] Looking back on that then, you must have lost a great number of colleagues and workmates that it must give you sort of mixed feelings looking back on it?
Erlend (PS2V3) [132] Well it does, I mean it's it's I mean I've been there about just over three years, three and a half years.
[133] I mean when you're working for a week at a time with the same blokes week in week out I mean you get to know them really well.
[134] It is difficult to to come to terms with the fact that I mean it's people that you've worked with for a week, at a time and I mean for three and a half years every second week you're working with that guys in a confined space, you get to know them really well.
[135] And I mean it is your sort of second home, and the guys that you work with every every week, I mean sort of become, I mean it's a bit of a cliche to say, but I mean part of a family that you living out there that you live with out there and it is a real I mean when you think of the number that was lost, I mean there were a lot of close friends involved in it.
(PS2V2) [136] Obviously having such a a close brush with death is something that you you've you've obviously lived through and be something that er you must feel strongly about.
[137] Do you feel that this particular incident has changed your attitude towards life?
Erlend (PS2V3) [138] I can't honestly say that up to now I've thought that much about it.
[139] I mean I've only just come out of hospital and as it is I'm still fairly well Macked with it.
[140] And you think that you're lucky to be alive in that respect, but I've never really thought that I was specially picked out for some reason to carry on living.
[141] But then again in the future it might sink in that [laugh] that there was a special reason for it, I don't know.
(PS2V2) [142] Obviously with so many having lost their lives on the disaster, you say that [...] you don't feel it's maybe an act of God int hat sense, that you were picked to to be saved, but erm you don't [...] feel any guilt as such either,o that you were one of the ones and er so many others had been lost?
Erlend (PS2V3) [143] No I don't feel guilty, I mean I would I would love to see everybody that was on the platform still alive.
[144] But then again I think I would I would be lying if I said that, I wish it was me rather than anybody else [...] .
[145] but no I mean I i mean I've lost a lot of good friends on it, and I would love to see them back alive but, there's nothing much I can do about it.
(PS2V2) [146] Very shortly after the incident an appeal fund was set up and money poured in to that from various sources including the oil companies themselves.
[147] What's your reaction to that sort of appeal fund?
[148] Don't you think that perhaps it might have been better for the oil companies to have perhaps done more at an earlier stage, in the the safety side of things?
[149] Or how about the the questions about an an appeal for for the victims and er relatives of the disaster?
Erlend (PS2V3) [150] Well I personally think with an appeal fund like that, I mean the amount of money that's gone into it is ridiculous considering the amount of compensation that everybody's going to get or hopes to get after it.
[151] I mean the only thing that an appeal fund like that should do is to give the widows and dependents of the the dead of the platform, it should give them immediate money to tide them over until they get their compensation which they need.
[152] And er the amount of money that's in the appeal fund, whereas it shows a great feeling of warmth from the general public, I think I don't I mean there's people dying all over the world, even at home here in Orkney, there's people that dying, they don't receive any great compensation for that.
[153] And I mean I think that if it was spread more I mean if if if people locally gave more to to bereaved in their own areas, I mean it would go down a lot more good there.
[154] [...] I said that the Occidental are gonna They'll either willingly pay or they're going have to pay a lot of compensation to the bereaved and er [...] fund more or less just going to top up any money when it's probably not going to be necessary in the long run.
(PS2V2) [155] At this stage then having spent so many weeks in hospital, how long will you be required to continue further visits to you know,up update the treatment?
Erlend (PS2V3) [156] Well I mean I I think the grafts that they've done, the major grafts anyway, are finished and er they seemed to have taken really well, so I mean it's just a matter of time, really, for them to settle.
[157] And I mean they say with skin grafts it takes two years before they're completely settled and accepted.
[158] And er I've got to go back next week for a sort of check up and I mean I suppose that'll continue for weeks to come.
[159] But er it's just a matter of time now for the discolouration to fade a bit, and things like that, that's mainly the worst that's left.
(PS2V2) [160] So in sense then that er the extent of your injuries really would not debar you from working offshore as far as you understand?
Erlend (PS2V3) [161] I've never really asked the extent The limitations of the injuries that I've got.
[162] I mean I'm going on the on the opinion that full function'll come back and I'll be able to do any work that I was doing before, and there'll be no change at all.
[163] The only problem is with er the skin grafts and that.
[164] They say that I mean any changes any in temperature are very noticeable so w Like it is working in the middle of winter offshore would be something I would have to come to terms with but no I mean I don't think there's any problems work-wise.
[165] I would hope not anyway.
(PS2V2) [166] Clearly it has been a an extremely trying time for you.
[167] How have people reacted and responded to your treatment and really erm how they feel about things now?
Erlend (PS2V3) [168] Well in hospital, I mean the number of cards and get well cards and well good wishes I received, and offers of help from people.
[169] I mean there's people I hadn't even seen for years that were staying there in Aberdeen came along and offered help.
[170] And everybody that sent cards, I mean it was really great [...] I mean get well cards are sort of things that you see in shops and you never really think about it, but when when you're lying flat on your back in hospital and you get cards for people, I mean it really does give you a lift.
[171] And I mean I can't thank the people enough that sent them all.
[172] And I mean there are too many to to name individually as well.
[173] But I mean it's it er it was great I mean the fact that I was I mean in in Aberdeen I was away from home, I mean you didn't even notice it, because of the number of Orcadians that popped in by the hospital and as I said sent cards and letters, it was great.
(PS2V2) [174] Well thank you very much Erlend , for sharing time with us this Thursday lunchtime, and we'll wish you a very speedy recovery and hope it won't be too long, in fact, before you're back at work.
Erlend (PS2V3) [175] [...] Thank you. [tape change]