Explosion in the North Sea

July 6 1998. 110 miles off the coast of Scotland, towering nearly 300ft out of the North Sea, stands the colossal Piper Alpha oil platform. It’s at the hub of the North Sea’s most lucrative oil field, churning out 120,000 barrels of oil per day.

But when a lapse in communication during routine maintenance leads to a gas leak, catastrophe ensues.

An explosion triggers a series of massive gas pipeline ruptures causing cataclysmic fires. 167 men perish and the massive platform is destroyed. It is the world’s worst ever offshore disaster.

The Piper Alpha Oil Rig was built in 1976, following the discovery of an oil bonanza in the North Sea. Costing its owners Occidental Petroleum £ 530 million it operated 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

Piper Alpha was designed to accommodate up to 250 workers – it was a hotel built on a petrochemical time bomb. Poor safety standards onboard the rig, cause a fatal chain of events that will cost the oil industry dearly.

6pm: Following a routine maintenance procedure on a pressure safety valve, a contractor clocks off his shift. The job is unfinished and the paperwork he fills in is supposed to prevent anyone from using the unsafe pump. But the night shift never see this vital paperwork. When another pump trips during the night, their attempts to start the faulty pump initiate the disaster.

10pm: A massive explosion rocks the platform, knocking out the electricity and communications and starting a crude oil fire. 20 minutes later, a gas pipe line fractures releasing a huge volume of compressed methane. The huge jet fire that results begins to destroy the massive platform. The moment this gas explosion occurs, the fate of Piper Alpha is sealed, its destruction is inevitable. Within two and a half hours the mighty Piper Alpha platform is gone.

The survivors gather in the canteen and wait for a rescue that will never come. When it becomes clear that there will be no help, a few of them take their lives into their own hands and try to escape. Some clamber down the legs of the rig, others jump more than 100ft into the bitter North Sea. Miraculously, 62 men survive.

Hear the first-hand stories and follow the investigators as they grapple with a catastrophe where the disaster scene itself has been utterly destroyed. Using just scraps of evidence and a whole lot of forensic science they finally succeed in reconstructing those final seconds from disaster.

Find out the answers on SECONDS FROM DISASTER – Explosion in the North Sea.
Monday 11 December 9.35pm on PRIME

Subscribe to our mailing list

About the author

Regan is one of the co-founders of Throng Media.
If they're on, I'm usually watching Game of Thrones, The Walking Dead, 24, Battlestar Galactica, The X Factor, Survivor, House of Cards, Mad Men and the NRL.
More from this author »