Drilling rig crewman dies

By DON McLEOD  |  Feb. 23, 1984
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HALIFAX, Nova Scotia -- One of 76 crewmen forced to abandon an off-shore drilling rig in lifeboats because of a gas blowout died Thursday after a harrowing night in the icy Atlantic Ocean.

Robert Wesley Lamb, 30, of Windsor Junction, Nova Scotia, was pronounced dead on arrival at Victoria General Hospital in Halifax, a hospital spokesman said. He was one of 76 crewman who had spent the night in lifeboats after evacuating the rig.

Spokesman Moe Cody would not disclose the cause of death but Shell Resources Canada Ltd. reported earlier that one crewman was believed to have suffered a heart attack following the ordeal.

The other 75 crewmen were reported in good condition.

The Norwegian-owned rig Vinland was drilling the Uniacke G-72 well for Shell Canada Resources off Sable Island, 100 miles southeast of Halifax, when natural gas began leaking Wednesday night, the company said.

One worker, who declined to be named on orders from Shell Canada, said there was a blowout and it shook the Vinland so badly that, 'We thought she was going down. When that thing blew, mud, water, pipe, everything just went up.'

The 76 crewmen shut down the well, activated blow-out preventers and then took to two lifeboats, Shell said. The rig remained upright with its emergency lights blazing through the night.

Major Gary Naylor of the Rescue Co-ordination Centre said the workers, dressed in orange, full-body survival suits, spent more than nine hours in the lifeboats. Many suffered seasickness in waves that averaged about six feet and winds estimated at about 20 knots.

During the night, the supply ships Seaforth Commander and Claymore Sea reached the torpedo-shaped lifeboats and towed them to calmer waters sheltered by Sable Island. At dawn, small rescue craft transferred the men to the supply ships.

The crewmen were then taken to another off-shore drilling rig, the Zapata Scotian, and later flown by helicopter to a temporary medical facility set up at Halifax airport.

'All these guys you see around here have just been to hell and back,' rig worker Jim Ross told reporters.

Shell Resources sent an observation team to the rig at daybreak to determine the extent of the blowout. The company said blow-out preventers were expected to control the gas flow and any escaping gas would dissipate and pose no environmental threat.

The 2-year-old Vinland was owned by the Norwegian firm Sverre Ditlev Simonsen Drilling.

The rig had drilled a test well more than three miles into the ocean floor, and had been working at its maximum depth for about a month, Shell official Laurie Taylor said.

Two years ago, a violent winter storm toppled the Ocean Ranger off-shore drilling rig with the loss of all 84 men on board.

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