• STV
  • MySTV

Piper Alpha: How the world's worst offshore disaster happened

The Piper Alpha disaster claimed the lives of 167 men on July 6, 1988.

On July 6, 1988, 167 men lost their lives in the worst offshore disaster in history.

By the time the sun dawned the next morning, the Piper Alpha oil platform was a ruin and the North Sea would never be the same.

In the months and years which followed it emerged that a series of mistakes and coincidences were responsible for the events of that night.

They began when a pressure safety valve was removed from one of two pipes used to export gas condensate from Piper Alpha - Pump A and Pump B - during routine maintenance.

The engineer carrying out the work did not have time to replace the valve on Pump A before the end of his shift and sealed it off with a metal plate.

At 9.45pm, Pump B failed and the crew - unaware Pump A was dangerously unsafe - activated it, causing a high-pressure leak which quickly ignited.

Piper Alpha disaster on 6/7/88
STV

A series of smaller blasts followed the initial explosion but Piper Alpha's firefighting system failed to activate and rescue boats including the Tharos, a large firefighting rig stationed nearby, were mobilised.

However, the Piper Alpha's crew were unable to reach lifeboat stations or the helideck and the intensity of the flames prevented the Tharos from reaching the platform.

At 10.20pm, a gas line linked to Piper Alpha ruptured, causing a second large explosion. It swept outwards from the platform, killing two crewman on the deck of a nearby rescue boat and the six Piper Alpha workers they had saved from the water.

Men leapt 175ft from the platform into the freezing sea to escape the flames. Among them was scaffolder Joe Meanan.

"When the pipe fractured and the huge fireball engulfed the platform it was just a scramble," he said.

"That's when I thought I was maybe near the end. You had the sense that something really catastrophic had happened but didn't really know because you were in the middle of it.

"I ran over to the north side of the platform. I took my lifejacket off and took a few steps and threw myself off as hard as I could. I felt nothing until I hit the water.

"I knew I had to get back to the surface. You could feel the heat and the back of you. I found a lifeboat that had been blown off the platform so I managed to swim over to that and climb into it."

Piper Alpha disaster on 6/7/88
STV

A second gas line ruptured at 10.50pm, forcing the Tharos to retreat.

Many of the men left alive aboard Piper Alpha took shelter in the fireproof accommodation block and awaited a rescue which would not come.

At 11.18pm the gas line connecting Piper Alpha to the Claymore platform ruptured and the facility began to buckle under the intense heat.

Less than 30 minutes later the accommodation block collapsed into the sea. None of the 80 men inside survived.

By 12.30am all that remained of Piper Alpha was a single module.

Of the 226 men aboard Piper Alpha on the morning of July 6, just 61 survived the disaster. It took three weeks to extinguish the blaze which consumed the platform.

Piper Alpha disaster on 6/7/88
PA

Naomi Reid father Bob Ballantyne survived Piper Alpha and became an outspoken critic of North Sea safety standards. He died in 2004, aged 61.

"I've grown up with Piper Alpha, it's always been such a huge part of my life," she said.

"I've had to live with it as well, it's something I've always known. It changed my father.

"He was aways fighting for safety and better conditions offshore before Piper Alpha. It wasn't until after he died that I understood what happened that night.

"I don't think we should ever forget about Piper Alpha. It's part of me."

Download: The STV News app is Scotland's favourite and is available for iPhone from the App store and for Android from Google Play. Download it today and continue to enjoy STV News wherever you are.

One account. All of STV.

This field is required. That doesn't look like a valid e-mail format, please check. That e-mail's already in our system. Please try again.
ShowHide
Forgot password?
This field is required. This must be at least 6 characters long. Did you enter your details correctly?
If you've forgotten your details then use the 'Forgot password?' link.
Need to reset your password?

We'll send a link to reset your password to

We've sent you details on how to reset your password

Please check your email and follow the instructions.

Forgotten your email address?

Have you forgotten the email address that you previously joined with? Don't worry, by emailing enquiries@stv.tv we can help.

One account. All of STV.

This field is required. Please enter at least 2 characters
This field is required. Please enter at least 2 characters
This must be at least 6 characters long.
ShowHide
This field is required. This must be at least 6 characters long.
You must be over 16 to join STV.
This field is required. This doesn't appear to be a valid date
We need this to check that you live in an STV region.
This field is required. This doesn't appear to be a valid postcode
Would you like us to email you about our great shows and services from time to time?
We'll only send emails we think you'll like (see example) based on information you have supplied and shows you have watched on STV Player. For details on emails and advertising, see our STV & You page.
Would you like to receive emails from the Scottish Children's Lottery about draws, instant games and competitions?
We support the Scottish Children's Lottery (SCL), which is managed by our colleagues at STV ELM Ltd. You can find out more about the SCL on its website, including its Privacy Policy.

By continuing you agree to our Terms of Use, and understand our Privacy and Cookie Policies.

Upload Profile Picture

Please make sure your image is under 2mb in size and a valid JPG, PNG or GIF.

Are you sure?

Unfortunately, you'll be unable to access our premium content. We’ll be sorry to see you go, but if you change your mind you can rejoin us at any time.

Please verify your STV account

Please verify your STV account using the email we sent you. If you have lost the email, we can send you another one, just click the button below.

Thanks

We've sent you a new verification email.
Please check your email and follow the instructions to verify your account.

Welcome to STV
Thanks for joining us.

Oops!

Sorry, you must be at least 12 years old to place a vote for your Real Hero.

Please review our Voting Terms of Use for more information.

Oops!

Sorry! It seems that you are using a browser that is incompatible with our voting service.

To register your vote please copy the below URL in to your regular mobile browser. We recommend Google Chrome, or Safari.

http://shows.stv.tv/real-heroes/voting

Oops!

Sorry, you seem to have already voted in this category.

Thanks for voting

Now share your vote with friends on your social network

Share on twitter Share on facebook

Cast your vote

Please register or sign in to continue.

Cast your vote

This field is required. This doesn't appear to be a valid date

Cast your vote

Please fill out this form to cast your vote. As you are under 16 years old you will not create an STV account. Why do we need these details?

This field is required. Please enter at least 2 characters
This field is required. Please enter at least 2 characters
This field is required. That doesn't look like a valid e-mail format, please check.
Location This field is required.
Parental Consent This field is required.

That's you. All that's left is to click the 'Submit Vote' button below. By doing so, you confirm that you and your parent or guardian have read and accept our Voting Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Cookie policy, and that the details you have entered are correct. We'll look after them as carefully as if they were our own.