March 30

This Day in History

Disaster

Mar 30, 1980:

Oil workers drown in North Sea

A floating apartment for oil workers in the North Sea collapses, killing 123 people, on this day in 1980.

The Alexander Kielland platform housed 208 men who worked on the nearby Edda oil rig in the Ekofisk field, 235 miles east of Dundee, Scotland. Most of the Phillips Petroleum workers were from Norway, although a few were American and British. The platform, held up by two large pontoons, had bedrooms, kitchens and lounges and provided a place for workers to spend their time when not working. At about 6:30 p.m. on March 30, most of the residents were in the platform's small theater watching a movie. Although there were gale conditions in the North Sea that evening, no one was expecting that a large wave would collapse and capsize the platform.

The capsizing happened very quickly, within 15 minutes of the collapse, so that many of the workers were unable to make it to the lifeboats. The Royal Air Force of Great Britain and Norwegian military both immediately sent rescue helicopters, but the poor weather made it impossible for them to help. Most of the 123 victims drowned. A subsequent investigation revealed that a previously undetected crack in one of main legs of the platform caused the structure's collapse. The Alexander Kielland sat in the water for three years before it was salvaged.

Eight years later, a fire and explosion on the Piper Alpha oil rig in the North Sea killed 167 workers.

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