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‘We will never forget them’: Poignant memorial held for men killed in North Sea helicopter tragedy

The remembrance service at Johnston Garden.  Picture by Jim Irivne.
The remembrance service at Johnston Garden. Picture by Jim Irivne.

The families of 16 men who died in a Super Puma crash off the coast of Peterhead met in Aberdeen yesterday for a poignant ceremony marking 10 years since the tragedy.

Around 100 people attended the sombre occasion in the city’s Johnston Gardens.

UK Oil and Gas chaplain Gordon Craig spoke to the gathered mourners, before reading out a roll call of those who lost their lives on April 1, 2009.

The men who died in the tragic helicopter crash were Brian Barkley, Paul Burnham, James Costello, Alex Dallas, Raymond Doyle, James Edwards, Vernon Elrick, Nairn Ferrier, Nolan Goble, Gareth Hughes, Richard Menzies, Warren Mitchell, David Rae, Les Taylor, Stuart Wood and Mihails Zuravskis.

Reverend Craig said: “For those most directly involved, the 10th anniversary is in a very real way no different to any other anniversary.

“You are always acutely aware of your loss, and many of you come here every year, or whenever you can, to remember and honour the memory of that person who is so dear to you.”

He added: “Everyone is here because it is the right thing to do.

“This disaster should not, and will not, ever be forgotten.”

After a touching piper’s lament, the tearful families, friends and colleagues came together for a moment of silence in honour of the North Sea crash victims.

During the quiet, birdsong could be heard in the lofty trees above as mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, children, grandchildren and others silently held each other close and remembered those who were lost.

Floral tributes were then piled high around the black obelisk erected in memory of those who died on Flight 85N.

One tribute addressed to one of 16 who died that day read: “10 years have passed. We miss you every day.

“All the times you were there for us, helped us know how special you really were.”

Another read: “10 years ago today, you were taken from us in a tragic way.

“No matter how much we cry, the memory of that day will never die.

“We live our lives from day to day, but miss you more than words can say.”

Finally, Reverend Craig read out a poem The Sea and The Beach, a poem by Tessa Wilkinson which has been adopted by the oil and gas industry for memorial events.

Deirdre Michie, CEO of Oil and Gas UK, said: “As we mark the 10th anniversary of the tragic Super Puma helicopter crash in the North Sea, our thoughts remain with the families, friends and colleagues who lost loved ones that day, and we will never forget them.

“This anniversary serves as a stark reminder that we can never be complacent about ensuring safe operations in our industry.”

Aberdeen’s Lord Provost Barney Crockett also laid down flowers at the ceremony.

Mr Crockett, who previously worked offshore himself, said: “This was a profoundly moving ceremony.

“I think a lot of people will be astonished to realise it’s been 10 years, but the feelings of solidarity with the families of the victims of this tragedy are still enormously strong.

“It was incredibly moving to see such a high turnout from the families, friends, colleagues of those who died, there must have been more than 100 people in attendance.”

A private memorial ceremony was later held in the Oil Chapel in Aberdeen, following the public event in Johnston Gardens, to allow the families to pray in peace, and light a candle for their loved ones.

“It was also important to note the welcome presence of representatives from all the companies and agencies involved, I think that shows the respect that is shared across the north-east for all the sacrifices oil workers make across the north-east.”

The Sea and the Beach, a poem by Tessa Wilkinson
During the service, Reverend Gordon Craig read the poem The Sea and the Beach by Tessa Wilkinson.

The poem was first read at a memorial by Pauline Nixon, widow of co-pilot Neville Nixon who lost his life in the crash.

Rev Craig said: “Mrs Nixon became an ordained priest in the Church of England and when she read the poem it was clear that the words would have so much to say to all families who had lost someone suddenly while working offshore.

“I now read this poem at every memorial service we hold.”

The Sea and the Beach

(by Tessa Wilkinson)

The sea seems to illustrate pain and sorrow so well

It comes in and it goes out

For a while it is there, overwhelming, covering everything

Then slowly the tide turns and it withdraws

For a while we can see the beauty of the shells, the seaweed

We can rejoice in the patterns in the sand

We can feel the corrugated ripples under our feet

Alive to what is around, and beyond

But then the tide turns and again it is all washed away, all overwhelmed

We feel like the crashing of the waves on rocks

Raw and out of control, full of anger and rage, battered and bruised

Tossed about like flotsam floating wherever we are thrown

There are so many questions. Why then? Why them? But no answers

Then the sea calms and gently the waves lap the rocks

We are soothed and the inner turmoil is calmed

In time we can learn to move up the beach as the tide comes in.

Out of its reach. Not to be overwhelmed.

The pain is still there, but in control

We can recognise the pain, revisiting the sadness

Acknowledging how much the person is missed

We learn to turn away and look to the future

Knowing the person will always be part of us

Always loved and always remembered.