Hell at Sea; 20 Years since 167 Died on Piper Alpha

Evening Chronicle (Newcastle, England), July 5, 2008 | Go to article overview

Hell at Sea; 20 Years since 167 Died on Piper Alpha


Byline: By ALASTAIR CRAIG

SCARRED by the memories, Piper Alpha survivor Billy Clayton is never far from tears.

Shaking, the brave grandad relived the world's worst offshore oil disaster two decades on.

Tomorrow is the 20th anniversary of the tragedy, when explosions ripped though a North Sea oil platform, killing 167 men.

A string of psychologists have been unable to rid Billy of horrific memories going back to the fateful night.

But today Billy, 60, of Gosforth, bravely recounts the moments when he leaped 170ft from the heli-deck and lived.

With agonising burns to the face and hands, and with a leg and ribs broken on impact, the scaffold-er battled to survive the perishing North Sea.

And he revealed he shouldn't even have been working on Piper Alpha - but had been persuaded to cover a colleague's trip to Australia.

"It's always at the back of my mind, but sometimes it's all I can think about, even after 20 years," said Billy, who has been for 40 years.

"It was hell. We had to jump. People were faced with dying of burns or jumping into the sea.

"Anyone who says time heals or you should be over it is a fool. I'll never forget what happened. I've seen psychologists but it was no good.

"I tell everyone now 'live life to the full while you can'. You never know what's round the corner. I try to enjoy life now but it's hard.

"Some days are better than others, but I find myself in tears."

The father-of-three has never worked since the tragedy, when he saw colleagues perish in the darkness.

Billy, who worked as a scaffolder on the rig, was watching a film in staff quarters with a friend when the first explosion ripped through the platform at about 10pm.

"We ran," he said. "My young mate started to follow me then I lost him. I spotted him again in the panic, then never saw him again."

Breaking down, Billy told how it was only the love of his family which willed him on in the darkest times.

"Without them I'd have been in trouble," he said. …

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