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The Ocean Ranger is lost

Valentine's Day, 1982: a terrible storm rages off the coast of Newfoundland. On the Grand Banks, the Ocean Ranger, the world's mightiest drilling rig, is pounded by waves more than 20 metres high. At the height of the storm, the "indestructible" rig begins to tip over, then capsizes. All 84 men on board — 56 of them from Newfoundland — perish. It is Canada's worst tragedy at sea since the Second World War.

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As dawn breaks on Feb. 15, shocking news reaches the mainland: the $120 million Ocean Ranger cannot be found. Search and rescue crews, braving terrible danger from the vicious weather, bring even worse news: there appear to be no survivors. As helicopters search the waves for any sign of life, Mobil Oil executives break the news to relatives of the Ocean Ranger's crew, and bitter questions are asked in St. John's and in Ottawa.
• There were 84 men aboard the Ocean Ranger when it sank. Of these 69 were Canadians and 15 were Americans. Of the 69 Canadians 56 were from Newfoundland, 5 from Alberta, 4 from Ontario, 3 from Nova Scotia and 1 from Québec. Not a single one was rescued. Only 22 bodies were ever recovered.

• The storm that sank the Ocean Ranger hit St. John's so hard that some search and rescue helicopter crewmen had to be picked up at their homes by the RCMP in all-wheel-drive vehicles.

• Helicopters reached the last known location of the Ocean Ranger three hours after the men took to the lifeboats. At 4:56 a.m. they sent a radio message saying they could not find the Ocean Ranger, but could see bodies and strobe lights on life jackets.

• Within hours, a massive search and rescue operation was underway, comprised of three supply ships, two Canadian Coast Guard ships, two Canadian Armed Forces Labrador helicopters and two Buffalo aircraft.

• The first ship in the area was the supply ship Seaforth Highlander. It came within a few metres of an Ocean Ranger lifeboat, but the lifeboat capsized and the men were quickly overcome by the frigid waters.

• There were several other serious oil rig disasters in the 1980s. In 1980 another semi-submersible rig, the Alexander Keilland, collapsed off Norway, killing 123. In 1988 there was an explosion aboard the Piper Alpha in the North Sea, killing 167. Both incidents led to stronger regulation of the offshore oil industry.
Medium: Television
Program: The National
Broadcast Date: Feb. 15, 1982
Guest(s): Joe Clark, Capt. Mike Clarke, Marc Lalonde, William Mason, James McGrath, Susan Sherk, Robert St. Aubin
Reporter: Mike Duffy, Whit Fraser, Barbara Yaffe
Duration: 7:20

Last updated: November 6, 2014

Page consulted on November 6, 2014

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