Thirty years ago the Ocean Ranger drill rig sank off the coast of Newfoundland. The entire crew, 84 men, drowned. During the early hours of February 15th, in a bad winter storm, the rig began listing. Emergency personnel got there but there was nothing and no one left to save.
That night I was awake. My new cat had put her week-old kittens in bed with me. One by one, she picked them up in her mouth, jumped up on the bed and deposited them beside me. She then went as far away on the bed as she could get, gave me a look that clearly said “they’re yours” and went to sleep. Needless to say, I couldn’t, not with five tiny bodies beside me. So I listened to CBC Radio until it went off the air, then thought about stuff and drifted off for a few minutes at a time. When CBC came back on the air at 5:30 a.m., it was all about the Ocean Ranger.
No one knew what was going on. Announcers gave details as they got them then corrected themselves. Reporters were with officials and emergency responders from Mobil, Odeco and whoever else was available on land and at sea. Boats and helicopters searched for survivors. But the rig had sunk and no survivors. I knew many of the oil industry voices on the radio. I worked as an office temp, and drilling and oil companies, including Mobil, were my regular clients.
And, like pretty much everyone in Newfoundland, I knew people who worked on the rigs. A fellow student and friend worked on the Ocean Ranger. Was he on or off that week? I couldn’t remember. He was off, thank God. So was a friend of his, also someone I knew. But the husband of another fellow student was on the rig. She was widowed and their infant son left fatherless.
Newfoundland was shattered. The offshore oil industry was new and had so far delivered only jobs and good times for all. Then, just like that, 84 men dead – the biggest single sea disaster in many years. It took the shine off the paradise that Hibernia had promised. “And have not shall be no more”, in the ringing words of Premier Brian Peckford who got a good deal for the province in oil revenues.
Investigations into the disaster showed slipshod safety practices and rig design that really could not withstand the worst that the Grand Banks could give an unmoving platform. The workers’ nickname for the rig became widely known: The Ocean Danger.
I’ve never forgotten that night – the joy of a cat trusting me with her babies, all of us warmly tucked up while the storm lashed my windows, then listening to early morning radio to hear panic and confusion happening right here, right now. So that’s why I never will have faith that any technology is fail-safe against nature’s powers.
The names of the men lost on the Ocean Ranger are:
Robert Arsenault, George Augot, Nicholas Baldwin, Kenneth Blackmore, Thomas Blevins, David Boutcher, Wade Brinston, Joseph Burry, Paul Bursey, Greg Caines, Kenneth Chafe, David Chalmers, Gerald Clarke, Daniel Conway, Gary Crawford, Arthur Dagg, Norman Dawe, Jim Dodd, Thomas Donlon, Wayne Drake, Leon Droddy, William Dugas, Terrance Dwyer, Domenic Dyke, Derek Escott, Andrew Evoy, Robert Fenez, Randell Ferguson, Peter Fogg, Ronald Foley, Melvin Freid, Carl Fry, George Gandy, Guy Gerbeau, Reginald Gorum, Cyril Greene, Norman Halliday, Fred Harnum, Tom Hatfield, Capt. Clarence Hauss, Ron Heffernan, Gregory Hickey, Robert Hicks, Derek Holden, Albert Howell, Robert Howell, Robert Howland, Jack Jacobson, Cliff Kuhl, Harold LeDrew, Robert LeDrew, Robert Madden, Michael Maurice, Ralph Melendy, Wayne Miller, Gord Mitchell, Perry Morrison, Randy Noseworthy, Ken O’Brien, Paschal Joseph O’Neill, George Palmer, Clyde Parsons, Donald Pieroway, John Pinhorn, Willie Powell, Gerald Power, Douglas Putt, Donald Rathburn, Darryl Reid, Dennis Ryan, Rick Sheppard, Frank Smit, William Smith, William David Smith, Ted Stapleton, Benjamin Kent Thompson, Greg Tiller, Craig Tilley, Gerald Vaughn, Woodrow Warford, Michael Watkin, Robert Wilson, Robert Winsor, Stephen Winsor.
from memorialsonline.com/ranger.asp and Gonzaga High School Annual Prayer Service Feb. 13/15 (in photos on Friends and Family of the Ocean Ranger FB page )