Piper Alpha disaster: Service marks 25 years

The disaster captured the headlines in 1988. Picture: PA
The disaster captured the headlines in 1988. Picture: PA
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The 25th anniversary of the world’s worst offshore oil and gas tragedy is to be marked by a special commemoration service.

On July 6, 1988, 167 people died after a gas leak on the North Sea platform ignited, engulfing Piper Alpha in a massive fireball.

167 people died in the disaster. Picture: Hamish Campbell

167 people died in the disaster. Picture: Hamish Campbell

Tomorrow’s service, due to take place at 11am at the North Sea Memorial in Aberdeen’s Hazelhead Garden, will begin after the flypast of an RAF Sea King helicopter from Lossiemouth. This was the first aircraft to arrive at the scene of the disaster 25 years ago.

First Minister Alex Salmond is expected to attend the service of remembrance and rededication which will be led by the Rev Gordon Craig, chaplain to the UK oil and gas industry.

Addresses will be made by George Adam, the Lord Provost of Aberdeen, and Geoff Holmes, chief executive of Talisman Sinopec Energy UK, the company that now operates the Piper field.

The names of all 167 people who died in the disaster will be read by representatives from the oil and gas industry and floral wreaths will be laid at the memorial.

How The Scotsman reported the tragedy.

How The Scotsman reported the tragedy.


Roy Carey, 70, from Ayrshire, was one of 62 survivors and will be attending the service.

“It gives me a chance to reflect on it. I do feel it’s the only place where I feel a little closer to the lads that never made it,” he said.

He also reflected on some of the safety changes introduced after the Piper Alpha disaster.

“A rig can now only burn the fuel that is on board which was not the case on the Piper Alpha. This should prevent a disaster to that extent happening again, but because that is happening in the North Sea doesn’t mean it is happening worldwide but it really should be,” he said.

“Safety, with science, should get better not worse and I’m hoping that improvements will be ongoing all the time.”

Ian Reid, 67, from Blackburn in West Lothian, lost his brother Donald, 44, who was an engineer on Piper Alpha. Mr Reid will visit the memorial but not attend the service to mark the 25th anniversary.

Since Donald’s funeral in 1988 Mr Reid has only been to Aberdeen once, for the 20th anniversary service which he found overwhelming.

This week he returned to see his 21-year-old granddaughter Emma graduate from the University of Aberdeen and will lay flowers at the memorial accompanied by his wife.

“My brother was missing from the Tuesday to the Friday. I didn’t know if he was alive or dead and I can guarantee those were the worst nights of my life,” he said.


“I know it’s a big anniversary coming up but every day is an anniversary to me. I’ve thought about him every day since that day happened. I’ve missed him.”

After the disaster, Mr Reid informed his bosses at the manufacturing factory where he worked in West Lothian about a safety measure highlighted in a BBC documentary about Piper Alpha that could be applied to their business.

The tagging system he suggested could be used to alert to workers to where valves had been removed for maintenance and prevent pipelines with missing valves being used. The company later introduced this on a global scale.

“It certainly makes me think, well, at least something’s come out of this in factories and I hope that in factories throughout the world they use this tagging system to help save lives. My brother lost his life because they never had these ideas then,” said Mr Reid.