AIRMEN from RAF Boulmer helped to rescue workers from an oil platform which was leaking gas into the North Sea.
Two RAF Sea King helicopters were scrambled to assist the operation to evacuate a total of 238 workers from the Elgin oil platform and the nearby Rowan Viking drilling rig.
An aircraft from A Flight, 202 Squadron based at RAF Boulmer, was the first military helicopter on the scene, 145 miles from land, and was followed by another Sea King from D Flight, 22 Squadron, based at RAF Kinloss.
RAF Search and Rescue Force Chief of Staff Wing Commander Andrew ‘Harry’ Palmer praised the skills of the aircrew and personnel at the Aeronautical Rescue Co-ordination Centre (ARCC) at RAF Kinloss who at one stage were dealing with up to eight helicopters involved in the rescue bid.
He said: “Some sharp, smart thinking by the ARCC at RAF Kinloss was the key to making it all happen and good leadership and command by RAF Boulmer and RAF Lossiemouth helicopter captains saved lives and prevented what could have been another Piper Alpha disaster.
The first aircraft on the scene was a commercial helicopter from the Norwegian sector of the North Sea that had already evacuated a number of workers from the Rowan Viking rig.
Wing Commander Palmer said: “The RAF Boulmer helicopter then arrived and took control and drove what turned out to be a multi-aircraft and multi-nation plan to move more than 200 workers off the Elgin Rig complex to another platform in an adjacent gas field.
“The RAF Lossiemouth aircraft joined shortly thereafter and aided in the evacuation and air co-ordination effort of what was a growing fleet of military and commercial helicopters – a total of seven were queuing for the rig’s Helicopter Landing Site at one stage.”
Sea King pilot Flight Lieutenant Gareth Dore of A Flight, 202 Squadron, based at RAF Boulmer, described how his helicopter made three airlifts of a total of 29 oil workers from the Elgin complex to the safety of a nearby platform.
He said: “As we arrived on the scene a civilian helicopter from the Norwegian sector had been on the scene for some time and had evacuated personnel from the Rowan Viking rig.
“We then made an approach to Elgin platform where we made our first lift of 10 personnel.
“On the transit to the drop off I contacted the ARCC and requested that other incoming aircraft were passed information on the height and speed at which they should approach the rig and the visibility conditions.
“We then made a further two lifts of personnel, totalling 29 in total. The workload at this point was challenging but manageable.”
He said that after the third lift there were a total of five aircraft in the area and the decision was taken to climb to 2,000 feet above a layer of haze and co-ordinate and manage the rescue effort from there.
Wg Cdr Palmer said: “The main part of the evacuation, which began just before midday on Sunday, was successfully completed before dark with no issues.”