Tuesday, February 14, 2012

A Grim Anniversary

Valentine's Day may be a day when people's thoughts turn to love and romance, but here in Atlantic Canada it has another, very different association. Late on the night of February 14 and in the early hours of February 15, 1982, an event took place off the coast of Newfoundland that will forever trigger memories of tragedy and loss. The semi-submersible mobile oil rig Ocean Ranger, deployed to drill an exploratory well seeking subsea deposits, had a crew of 84 on board. At the time it was the largest semi-submersible rig to have been built.

Winters on the North Atlantic can be unpredictable, and violent storms can develop literally overnight as weather systems merge. Although we'll never know exactly what happened on that awful night, some things are clear: one of the rig's portlights was smashed; this would allow water to pour into the ballast control room. The rig eventually developed a serious list and was abandoned. Of the 84 crew on board, the bodies of only 22 were recovered.

Thirty years later, I still remember hearing the news broadcast on CBC Radio while driving through Doctor's Cove, NS, and the sense of disbelief over the subsequent few days as the extent of the disaster became known. Early on, there was a faint hope that some of the crew might be found alive; that hope faded quickly as the extent and force of the storm became apparent.

Newfoundland songwriter Ron Hynes penned the song "Atlantic Blue" about the tragedy:

What colour is a heartache from a love lost at sea?
What shade of memory never fades but lingers to eternity?
How dark is the light of day that sleepless eyes of mine survey?
Is that you Atlantic Blue? My heart is as cold as you.

How is one heart chosen to never lie at peace?
How many moments remain; is there not one of sweet release?
And who's the stranger at my door to haunt my dreams forever more?
Is that you Atlantic Blue? My heart is as cold as you. as you.

I lie awake in the morning as the waves wash on the sand
I hold my hurt at bay; I hold the lives of his children in my hands.
And whose plea will receive no answer? Whose cry is lost upon the wind?
Whose the voice, so familiar, whispers my name as the night comes in?
And whose wish never fails to to find my vacant heart at Valentine's?
Is that you Atlantic Blue? My heart is as cold... My heart is as cold... My heart is as cold as you.

© Ron Hynes

Wikipedia's entry on the Ocean Ranger can be found here.

The 84 men lost on that terrible night were:
Jim Dodd
Derek Escott
Cyril Greene
Derek Holden
Rick Sheppard
Frank Smit
Daniel Conway
Terrance Dwyer
Fred Harnum
Randy Noseworthy
John Pinhorn
Dennis Ryan
William Smith
Woodrow Warford
Tom Hatfield
Arthur Dagg
Kenneth Chafe
Gerald Clarke
Douglas Putt
Gary Crawford
Norman Halliday
Wayne Miller
Gord Mitchell
Perry Morrison
Greg Caines
Wayne Drake
Cliff Kuhl
Robert Wilson
David Chalmers
Robert Howell
Robert Fenez
Jack Jacobson
Robert Madden
George Augot
Nicholas Baldwin
Kenneth Blackmore
Thomas Blevins
David Boutcher
Wade Brinston
Paul Bursey
Norman Dawe
Thomas Donlon
Joseph Burry
Leon Droddy
William Dugas
Domenic Dyke
Andrew Evoy
Randell Ferguson
Ronald Foley
Melvin Freid
Carl Fry
George Grandy
Guy Garbeau
Regineld Gorum
Capt. Clarence Hauss
Ron Heffernan
Gregory Hickey
Robert Hicks
Albert Howell
Harold LeDrew
Robert LeDrew
Michael Maurice
Ralph Melendy
Ken O'Brien
Paschal Joesph O'Neill
George Palmer
Clyde Parsons
Donald Pieroway
Willie Powell
Gerald Power
Donald Rathbun
William Smith
Ted Staplton
Benjamin Kent Thompson
Craig Tilley
Gerald Vaughn
Michael Watkin
Robert Winsor
Stephen Winsor
Robert Arsenault
Darryl Reid
Greg Tiller


  1. Poignant post Jean. Thanks for remembering.

    1. I had little association with Newfoundland at the time, Lorna, but I lived in a coastal community; the scope of this disaster shook me deeply.