The time is 05:00 and the calendar shows March 27, 1980. Bengt Hammer has just woken up. From the bed he lies and listens to the weather. That sounds bad.
The 25-year-old is wearing an undershirt. Over it, he unbuttons a flannel shirt, while the waist of the denim trousers is fastened with the favorite belt bought in Copenhagen.
Eggs and bacon are served at the fair.
The working day starts at 06:00 every day, but today the weather is too bad. The helicopter that will transport him and his offshore colleagues to the platform Eldfisk B has been canceled.
It seems to be a relaxing day at the cabin.
Hammer lives on the housing platform Alexander L. Kielland on the Ekofisk field in the North Sea.
An ordinary morning
Lunch time is approaching, and he shows up at the mass. As they eat, they become aware of the emergency exit and the sign hanging on the door.
– We suddenly discovered that the sign was in English and Spanish. Not in Norwegian. We were stunned by it and thought it was a little fun. We were on a Norwegian oil platform, Hammer says to TV 2.
What he does not know is that this very emergency exit will help save his life only hours later.
After lunch, a film will be shown to the workers who live in the housing rigs – which is a converted mud room. Hammer does not remember what it was about. The time is now closer to 13.00.
– After the film, we went back to the fair to have some coffee and tea.
Alexander Kielland Accident
- The Alexander Kielland platform was an oil platform owned by Stavanger Drilling. The American oil company Phillips Petroleum used it as a housing platform for workers on the Ekofisk field.
- On March 27, 1980, Alexander Kielland was anchored to the drilling platform Edda. There was a strong wind and big waves, and at 6.30 pm one of the platform’s five legs was torn off. Less than half an hour later, the platform had capsized and was under water.
- 212 workers were on board the platform when the accident happened. 123 people lost their lives, while 89 escaped with their lives.
- An investigative commission was immediately set up to uncover the cause of the accident. One year later, the commission concluded that the accident was due to a welding error performed by the French shipyard that had produced the platform.
- The accident led to a comprehensive security reform on the Norwegian shelf.
- Survivors and survivors perceived the commission’s investigation as deficient, and several believed that they had not been listened to in the time during and after the investigation. Several have argued that the cause of the accident be re-investigated.
- In 2019, the Office of the Auditor General decided to review the authorities’ treatment of the accident. In 2021, the audit presented its report, in which they criticized the authorities’ treatment of the survivors and survivors. The Office of the Auditor General, on the other hand, found no basis for re-examining the accident.
Two loud bangs
One of the crew comes over to Hammer. He wonders if the 25-year-old can help run a film in the crew room next door.
– This was before VHS. It was 32-millimeter film. You had to change the film reel during the film, and not everyone could, explains Hammer, who is now 67 years old.
He replies that he can line up, and is told to meet at 18.00 in the crew room.
– I had never been in that room before, but I lined up and watched the film. I mean to remember that it was Australian crime, but it was not known, he recalls.
The 25-year-old sits on a high chair that is bolted to the floor. He therefore does not have to get up to change film reel.
At 18.20 it slams.
– We were used to hearing bangs and thumps from the sea that struck under the platform. But suddenly there was another bang – and then it happened.
The entire Alexander L. Kielland platform is tipping backwards. Everyone in the room disappears into a corner. Hammer is left in the bolted chair.
He jumps to the floor, sails towards the door and opens it. He casts a glance in the opposite direction. The view from the windows on the wall no longer shows the sky, but straight down into the cold, violent sea.
Under the windows are the people who were sitting in the booth when the platform overturned. Hammer sees that they are trying to pull themselves up on the floor. They hang from the table legs – which are also bolted to the floor.
He manages to wonder why no one is screaming for help. He hears no cry. Everything is quiet around him.
But, that’s not true. Loud howls can be heard around Hammer. He just does not notice.
He knows very well where the emergency exit is. They discussed the sign on the door earlier in the day. Hammer throws himself from table to table. The platform has a tilt of 35 degrees.
The 25-year-old is now below the emergency exit. He must, from the table he clings to, jump to reach the door handle. If he misses, he ends up at the bottom of the room with the others.
– I took the plunge and jumped up so I just got hold of the handle. Fortunately, the door slammed straight, that is, down.
Hammer gets out the door and out on the deck. He sees a box of life jackets, and ties one on.
– I went to a lifeboat, and opened the hatch that was aft (at the back of the boat, journ.anm). Then I crawled on board and started shouting.
“Go to the lifeboat”, the 25-year-old repeats several times. Why in English, he still wonders to this day.
– There were only Norwegians and a few foreigners on board the platform. It is not easy to know why I suddenly spoke English.
As he shouts and shouts, he sees several people trying to save their lives by climbing to the top of the platform.
The lifeboat is stuck
The lifeboat, which seats 50 people, will be filled with 27 pieces. They do not have time to wait much longer. Hammer tries to start the engine.
– The engine went around, but it would not start. One of the crew had a trick. He opened the valves, and then the engine got such a high speed that we got engine power.
– The only thing left now was to lower the boat and loosen the hooks. Both were to be released at the same time, but that did not happen.
The lifeboat hangs and dangles after the rear hook, and occasionally hits the high sea with the stern.
Hammer understands that he has to open the hatch in the roof of the wheelhouse. He wants to climb out to loosen the hook they are stuck in.
The lifeboat slams, and they are hit on the platform. The hatch, which Hammer shakes and pulls, has got stuck during the collision.
There will be another crash. Hammer falls down and is now at the bottom of the boat.
– Suddenly we were under the platform itself. I looked right under Kielland. A big wave had lifted the lifeboat up and shattered the entire wheelhouse I was standing in.
He gets to his feet. Now that the wheelhouse is broken, he gets hold of the hook.
The lifeboat is free.
– Full throttle was given. We drove over another lifeboat that was under water. It was empty.
“Now there are many who drown”
He measures the worst waves to eight meters high. The 25-year-old’s position in the lifeboat makes him the only one who can look out.
“Is the platform still floating?”, The others on board ask. Hammer still replies, “Yes, it floats.”
Then he must give a counter-notification. The housing platform Alexander L. Kielland is sinking in the North Sea.
– Then someone said: “Now there are many who drown.” Just then a high wave came crashing down on us. “Now we are drowning too,” I shouted.
Miraculously, the lifeboat rises from the sea again. Hammer understands at this moment that they are actually going to survive.
– A helicopter came over us, but drove right past. I understand that, because we had not had radio contact with anyone.
The waves are high, and the boat takes in water from the starboard side. Several in the boat vomit – also Hammer.
It takes many hours before they are rescued. The helicopter transports them to the platform Ekofisk Hotell.
The flannel shirt and denim trousers sit as if glued to the body. The 25-year-old is soaked and icy cold. He is given an orange coverall.
– I could not undress myself. They had to unbutton their belts, trousers and shirts. I was so cold and tired. The clothes I was wearing I never saw again.
05:30 in the morning Hammer lands at Sola airport in Stavanger. Exactly 24 hours ago, he ate eggs and bacon at the fair on the Kielland platform.
Without clothes or underwear, the trip goes to Stavanger city center. Along with several others, Hammer has to trudge along the street wearing the orange coverall.
– It was not fun to go there. Everyone understood who we were and where we came from. There were many long eyes, and not a single smile. They looked at us as if we were from another world.
Returned to the North Sea
Only 28 days after the accident, the 25-year-old is back in the Ekofisk field. This time he enters Edda – Kielland’s neighboring platform.
– What was it like to return after such a short time?
– It was actually a bit of therapy. Overcome the fear, in a way. And then there were colleagues there who had experienced the same thing as me. So it got pretty good.
March 27 is 42 years since the fateful day. The accident is described as the worst in the North Sea since World War II.
123 people lost their lives. 30 have never been found.
– Do you often think back?
– Yes, not bad thoughts, but it is clear that they will be there forever and ever.
Hammer lost many good friends and colleagues that day, but there is one in particular he wants to highlight.
– Paul Paulsen. He was my very best colleague and a kind of mentor. He drowned, and that was the worst of all. I took it incredibly seriously. He had as much as he could tell about life – which unfortunately had not started so well. I fell in love with him so much.
Paulsen was 51 years old. The then 25-year-old Hammer looked up to the man from Haugesund.
– He had had a terribly difficult youth, but then everything had turned around and his life became a sunshine story. And then he would not be allowed to live. It was absolutely awful.
Believe in coincidences
It is easy for Hammer to think that a series of coincidences were the reason why he survived the catastrophic accident.
– Why was I in the crew room that night? I had never been asked before, nor had I ever been in that room before.
If he had not been asked, he would most likely have seen a movie in the mud room with the others. Only two from this room survived.
– If I had opened the hatch in the roof of the lifeboat, I would have been killed when the wheelhouse was smashed by Kielland.
Today, the 67-year-old works at a gas factory on Melkøya outside Hammerfest. 14 days on, and 14 days off.
At home he still has the orange coverall. It hangs in the closet, like a kind of memory.
Will be a documentary series
In high seas in the evening, one of the residential platform’s five legs was torn off, and within 20 minutes the whole of Alexander L. Kielland tipped around.
Of the 212 on board, only 89 survived the tragedy.
After two failed turning operations, the platform was sunk with 50 kilos of explosives in 1983. The remains of the previous drilling platform are now at a depth of 712 meters.
A Norwegian commission of inquiry concluded that the accident was due to a crack or welding error made by the French shipyard that built the platform.
Nevertheless, there are many who still have not settled down with the official explanation.
In 2019, it was decided that the Office of the Auditor General will review the accident again, and investigate how the authorities fulfilled their responsibilities.
On January 3, the documentary series Katastrofen Kielland premieres on TV 2 and TV 2 play at 21:45.