Remembering Ocean Ranger loss, still fresh after 34 years

Students, families and members of the community gathered Monday in an annual service to remember the 84 lives lost in a 1982 storm that sank the drilling rig Ocean Ranger.

Gonzaga High School service a reminder of 84 men lost in February storm

Students, families and members of the community gathered Monday for an annual service to remember the 84 lives lost in a 1982 storm that sank the drilling rig Ocean Ranger. 2:10

Students, families and members of the community gathered Monday for an annual service to remember the 84 lives lost in a 1982 storm that sank the drilling rig Ocean Ranger.

"This time is very emotional to us. It's a very emotional service," said Gerry Sheppard, who lost his brother Rick Sheppard.

"But it gives us a chance to reflect back, and in reflection, to remember the good as well as the sad."

Gonzaga students light candles for each of the 84 men who died on the Ocean Ranger. (Eddy Kennedy/CBC)

56 of the 84 men who died when the Ocean Ranger sank in that February gale were from Newfoundland and Labrador.

"The pain and grief of their loss may feel for many of us almost as fresh and real as it did 34 years ago," said Pastor Gary Andrews of Cornerstone Ministry Centre.

Five of the crew who died graduated from Gonzaga High School, which is why the school hosts the annual memorial.

"Our memories of those 84 young men are timeless," said student Nitish Bhatt in his tribute Monday at St. Pius X Church in St. John's.

"In our hopes for our future we must remember their dreams and their lives...Their hopes were for the future, and 34 years later, we must realize we are their future."

The sinking of the offshore oil industry's pride, a 14-thousand-tonne steel giant, resulted in a Royal Commission.

It blamed the tragedy on design flaws in the Ocean Ranger's ballast system, inadequate training and unenforced safety rules.

Gerry Sheppard, whose brother Rick died on the Ocean Ranger, says the anniversary brings back strong emotions for families. (Eddy Kennedy/CBC)

"It was like the Titanic. Everybody said it's the biggest and it will never sink. They were wrong again," said teacher Stephen Gosse, who recounted the history of the tragedy.

Only 22 bodies were pulled from the water in the days following the sinking, 330 kilometres southeast of St. John's.

"Lessons were learned, but alongside lessons there must be memory," said Bhatt. "We must ensure a safer and better future by remembering our past."

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