Piper Alpha Explosion (01:29)
On July 6, 1988 an oil platform 110 miles from Aberdeen collapsed. This film will cover a critical hour during which the disaster could have been avoided.
Offshore Engineering Compromise (00:57)
Occidental Petroleum's platform produced 10% of North Sea oil in 1988. Learn how adapting to natural gas weakened its safety design.
Permit to Work System (02:34)
A gas pipeline was being installed prior to July 6, and gas leaks were reported. A pump pressure valve was removed from service; an engineer filed paperwork indicating it couldn't be used but failed to inform the supervisor.
Spiral to Disaster (02:49)
The automatic fire system was switched to manual on July 6th. Pump B went off and couldn't be restarted; engineers failed to realize pump A's pressure valve was off and ordered it into service.
Piper Alpha Explosion (02:47)
Crew members started pump A, not realizing its pressure valve was missing. After a blast, the supervisor shut down oil and gas operations but weak fire walls led to oil fire—a design and risk assessment flaw.
Evacuation Failure (02:21)
A breakdown in emergency communication occurred on Piper Alpha. Cut off from life boats, the crew awaited helicopters but winds made landing impossible. The galley filled with smoke and two men tried to reach the fire system control panel.
Production over Safety (02:42)
Learn how Piper Alpha's connection to a network of rigs fueled the fire. Despite hearing maydays and seeing smoke, Claymore and Tartan continued pumping oil to maintain revenue.
Gas Explosion (01:32)
Piper Alpha's oil fire heated gas lines from adjoining rigs; Occidental engineers knew the danger of a gas fire but hadn't designed safety features. View footage of the exploding gas line.
Piper Alpha Escape Attempts (01:48)
After the gas explosion, crew members were slowly asphyxiating. Some left the accommodation block and jumped 10 stories into the ocean. Claymore's supervisor refused to shut down operations.
Final Escape Route (01:06)
Specialized fire-fighting vessel Tharos approached the Piper Alpha rig but design flaws rendered it too slow to rescue the crew.
Piper Alpha Collapse (01:21)
If Claymore and Tartan had shut down when the first explosions occurred, the gas fires may have been avoided and the crew may have lived. After an hour of burning, the rig fell into the sea.
Piper Alpha Victims (02:37)
Of 226 crew members, 167 died and 61 lived. Engineer Andy Mochan describes jumping into the sea to the press.
Piper Alpha Investigation (02:07)
Gas fires destroyed 75% of the platform. Occidental claimed a perfect safety record but officials found the protocol was superficial. Risk analysis and poor management were common among North Sea oil rigs.
Piper Alpha Legacy (01:57)
After the 1988 disaster, oil companies improved rig safety features and regulatory authority was taken over by the Department of Health and Safety. However, gas escapes continue to occur in the North Sea.
Credits: Spiral to Disaster: Disaster (Series 1) (00:41)
Credits: Spiral to Disaster: Disaster (Series 1)
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