Yarmouth Minster commemorates North Sea helicopter tragedy
14:11 15 July 2012
Â© Archant 2012
Relatives and friends of the victims, who included seven from Norfolk and Suffolk, were joined by local people showing their solidarity and a wider North Sea family of company representatives, including Shell executive Bill Townsley, who flew in from Houston, Texas.
Addressing the packed congregation, Mr Townsley said: “The families of the 11 who died live with their memories on a daily basis. This service will indicate to them that we too have not forgotten.”
He recalled that it had seemed a beautiful East Anglian evening when he was working late in his office on July 16 2002.
It was at about 7.45pm he received a call in a distressed tone telling him there had been a helicopter accident.
“At that time we still had hope of rescuing colleagues but that vision swiftly ended when we received a report from the scene that there were no survivors,” he said.
“It was then we realised the only thing we could do was provide support for the colleagues and families.”
Mr Townsley paid warm tribute to staff from the companies involved “showing up at offices to ask what they could do” and to the “professionalism and caring behaviour of the police who performed in exemplary fashion”.
Family liaison officers had stayed with affected families and, in some cases, remained in contact for weeks and months.
He said: “The final act of caring was not to forget. Each year there has been a commemoration service and finally, today, we have people coming from places all over the country and the world to pay their respects.”
Mr Townsley said amid the great sadness of the tragedy had come tremendous good in the caring of colleagues and the industry of which he was proud to be a part.
The Rev Gordon Craig, chaplain to the oil and gas industry, said while 10 years ago would seem like distant history to many young people, those directly involved in the events of July 16, like the rescue workers who stuck in to do whatever they could to help, would feel things each year the anniversary came around.
He said: “People travel the horrible road of bereavement at different speeds. The feelings never go away they just don’t break through as frequently.”
Maybe after 10 years, relatives would now be able to take comfort from and smile at the happy memories of their lost loved ones.
In a poignant highlight to the service, friends and relatives gathered to watch the Rev James Stewart light a candle for each of the 11 victims in front of a special porch built at the west door of the church to commemorate the disaster.
Before that took place, port chaplain the Rev Peter Paine simply recounted the tragic story of how the Sikorsky S-76A helicopter, operated by Norwich-based Bristow Helicopters, had “suffered catastrophic mechanical failure” during a 10 minute flight between the gas production platform Clipper and the drilling rig Global Santa Fe Monarch.
The names of each victim - David Graves from Beccles, pilot Captain Philip Mark Wake from Strumpshaw, co-pilot Philip Dearden from Norwich, Geoffrey Bispham from North Walsham, Douglas Learwood from Middlesbrough, Paul Francis from Norwich, Philip Stone from Norwich, Kevin Taylor from Norwich, Stuart Coggon from Middlesbrough, Angus MacArthur from Ross-Shire, Scotland and Denis Kelleher from Lancashire - were read out.
Yarmouth Mayor Colleen Walker then laid a wreath in the porch.
Team rector the Rev Chris Terry, who led the service, had earlier welcomed the congregation to the church “which has for over 900 years echoed with the joys and the sorrows, the pleasures and the pains of the people of this town”.
He said the construction of the memorial porch had made the Minster a focus for the remembrance of the tragic events of 10 years ago.