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Last Updated: Sunday, 25 November 2007, 18:23 GMT
Rescuer describes tragedy fears
Capt Steve Christmas
Capt Steve Christmas spoke of the urgency of the operation
A pilot who helped evacuate the crew of a burning oil platform has told how he initially feared he might be dealing with a disaster on the scale of Piper Alpha.

Coastguard helicopter pilot Capt Steve Christmas described how he battled snow and gusting winds to land on the deck of the Thistle Alpha platform.

His helicopter was one of seven sent to carry workers to safety on Sunday morning.

More than 100 of the 159 on the platform were evacuated, with the others remaining on board until the blaze was extinguished.

The devastating blaze on Piper Alpha in July 1988 killed 167 of the 226 men on board the Occidental drilling platform.

Capt Christmas's helicopter was one of seven scrambled to Thistle Alpha, 120 miles north east of Shetland, when the fire was reported at 0830 GMT on Sunday.

There were certainly thoughts going back to years gone by, to Piper Alpha, on the way out there
Capt Steve Christmas
Coastguard pilot

He said: "When we arrived on scene the weather was not particularly nice, with some fairly heavy snow showers around and strong winds gusting up to 50 or 55 knots which made it particularly unpleasant.

"There were certainly thoughts going back to years gone by, to Piper Alpha, on the way out there.

"When we got out there we could see it wasn't quite of that magnitude. However, there is always that urgency that presumably something like Piper Alpha started like that so obviously we want to get the job done as quickly as we can."

Capt Christmas described how the seven rescue helicopters which had been sent to evacuate the platform worked in a rotation system to carry oil workers to safety on neighbouring rigs.

'Under control'

He added: "We could see from the people coming off that nobody seemed to be panicked, everybody seemed to be calm and relaxed and from that we obviously get a good feeling for how well under control the whole situation is.

"It was busy - there were four aircraft stacked up at one time. Basically as soon as one lifted another was straight onto the deck to take more people off.

"There appeared to be more smoke the longer we were there but then after a while it seemed to die away slightly and it would appear they had the fire under control at that stage and eventually put it out."

Helicopter winchman Keith Devaney said at least three levels of the massive platform appeared to be burning when he landed on deck.

Although there is danger for us and the helicopters it is much more dangerous for the people on the platform with absolutely no other way out
Keith Devaney
Coastguard winchman

"I initially got onto the deck when we landed and there was about 70 knots of wind passing through the deck so basically it was a case of getting people onto the aircraft safely and quickly so the other aircraft behind us could move their passengers as well."

Mr Devaney said he and the other rescuers did not have time to worry about their own safety.

He said: "Although there is danger for us and the helicopters it is much more dangerous for the people on the platform with absolutely no other way out.

"Of course you take it into consideration but you don't think too long on it - you get in there, get the job done and get out as quickly as you can."

He added that while on the deck he saw that the overflow valve on one of the platform's pressure valves was at maximum.

"Obviously there was enough heat present to make that cook", he said.

"On seeing that we just got our packs [passengers] on and got out of there as quickly as we could."



SEE ALSO
'Serious' oil blaze extinguished
25 Nov 07 |  North East/N Isles

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