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In December 1977 makes Otto Johansen a routine dive at oil platform Cormorant Alpha.
Suddenly he noticed that the 380 000-tonne platform is about to heel.
A rapid ascent will kill him, and on the platform falls will Otto Johansen be dragged down into the depths.
On the surface, the 25-year dive master Guttorm Engebretsen what is happening and make a decision. He decides to risk their own lives and the life of her colleague Tom Engh, by sending Engh down to do whatever it takes to stabilize the platform.
Tom Engh manages miraculously to complete the mission, and the three surviving. Divers saving human lives and values of at least one billion. In retrospect, they receive no reward and are asked to remain silent under threat of dismissal.
This was to be the final step before the fitting of the superstructure of the rig.”
Otto explained what happened next: “I was part of a four-man diving team working 40 metres (130 feet) down, opening and closing safety valves under the skirt of the huge structure in preparation for pressure testing.
“Suddenly all hell broke loose; a valve in one of the legs was opened for testing, but its backup was already in service and opened, and a huge water spout blasted out of the top of the platform. The production tanks began to fill with water and the rig quickly began to list.”
Forty metres below the platform Otto was screaming at the top of his voice over his communication set telling the diving team’s controller what was happening around him, as everything loose was sucked into the open valves and blasted under high pressure over the top of the platform,
“There was chaos,” said Otto, and orders were given to abandon the rig. Workers leapt from the deck 100 feet into the sea, tugs cut their lines, and the tug holding the diving barge also cut its lines, abandoning the men to their fate.
“Oil company representatives arrived at the barge in a fast boat and ordered immediate evacuation of the rig, which had taken on an alarming list and was within two degrees of capsizing. I was 40 metres below the platform and my mate was in the decompression chamber – if the order was carried out we were both dead.
“The dive supervisor wasn’t about to let that happen and instead set about trying to save the doomed rig.”
He asked if Tom Engh would be willing to try to block the valves, and Tom agreed. He was lowered into the maelstrom, passing his mate who was clinging desperately to his lifeline.
Amazingly, he managed to slide the 16-inch blocking plate into the first hole and secure it, and equally incredibly, he managed to secure the second plate, thus stopping the flow of water and saving the rig and the two trapped divers.
“It’s a really hair-raising story,” said Jan, “but according to the British and Norwegian governments, the builders and Shell, it never happened.
As soon as emergency power came back on, a spark ignited gas at the transition cone area near the leg and deck, causing explosions and flash fires around the platform. High overpressures were generated, particularly at the top of the legs.
The explosion rocked the platform, and it was very lucky that a leg did not fail and cause total collapse.
I was onboard during two of the three explosions, and was not sorry to leave. Lost a couple of close friends during one explosion, and have never forgiven Shell for their attitude to the offshore workforce. Always full of platitudes to the press, but treat the 'lads' with total contempt.
Too bad that the Control Room operator was absent, which was later covered up and the terminal fire engine failed to start....