It's been a strange few weeks really and it's difficult to say why in some ways. The 1st of April saw a second helicopter crash in the North Sea but unlike the first crash in February there was no lucky escape for anyone onboard.
After we first heard the news about this crash there was the dawning realisation that a happy outcome wasn't going to be. Anytime you hear bad news from offshore now the first thing we do is check round the list of everyone we know that works offshore to find out where they are just so we can know that they're safe.
The next stage is to find out which installation is affected. If you've been there then you start worrying that there might still be someone you know involved in the incident. They may only be someone you know in passing but it's still someone you've had contact with whether it be only the one conversation or many more. A minor relationship in the grand scheme of things but still some contact.
If you don't personally know anyone affected then you generally feel a degree of relief that you don't have to deal with the loss. But this time it doesn't feel that way. This time it knocked us all a little bit. I don't think I've ever really felt the offshore "family" as my family before but this time around it got under the skin. Probably not helped by the fact that I had to fly offshore the next day. It wasn't that I was worried about the safety of the flight I would be taking, more that I was thinking of those people who had said goodbye to the guys who'd flown offshore 2 weeks previously but who would never make it home.
When you're heading back home your emotions and your heart are already heading home ahead of you. I have 2 personas - Derek calls one of them my offshore persona then as it disappears and my home persona comes back and only then does he know I've arrived home. My offshore persona protects me. It has to be professional and have a degree of distance. There's a lot of compromise as you're thrown into a world of strangers on a monthly or weekly basis. People you have get on with because you can't escape from them. The choice is to get on with everyone (or as many as possible) and let the trip go quickly or be an obnoxious t**t, fall out with everyone, and let your trip drag on. Your choice!
So...you know that your chopper flight is on its way out to the platform. You start to relax as you know your time away from home is coming to an end. You get your suit on. You hear the chopper on the landing pad up above you. Go upstairs, get on it, belt up. Watch as she lifts from the helipad and as the platform fades into the distance you put your going home head on. You feel yourself relaxing as you get closer to the Beach. You start thinking about what you're going to do, who you're going to see, who's waiting for you at home.
The guys on the flight on April 1st from the BP Miller platform will never come in through the door. You do feel it could so easily have been you. None of us are any more special than anyone else. There was no pick of the draw. Any of us that fly out there could have been on that flight. It didn't have to be that chopper that went down. There are 3 companies flying out to the North Sea. Any of them could have had the fatal accident and anyone with a valid survival certificate could have been on that flight that went down. All you can be thankful for is that it wasn't you.
I had to fly out the next day for an overnight trip. There was an atmosphere at Bristows with a hyper edge to it. Everyone paid more attention to the safety brief than they would do normally. Offshore conversation centred around the crash. Speculation as to what had happened. I watched the names and pictures on Newsnight Scotland when they were released...and promptly phoned home to get a cuddle over the phone from my honey. I was delayed for an extra day due to fog - not unusual. I didn't feel the same relief that I do normally when the flight was finally on its way and I got on the chopper. There was a degree of apprehension on the way in, more so than I had on the way out, and there was relief when we landed.
I was with the other girls when the memorial service was on. We did think about going up to Union Street to join in the service outside St Nicholas Kirk but we thought that might be too emotional. Instead we listened to it on the radio in the office and bowed our heads and stayed with our own thoughts when the 2 minute silence was observed.
I suppose I'm thankful that I've made it home everytime. The majority of us that work offshore do but over the years some of us haven't. I'm grateful that I have someone who loves me to come home to. I'm grateful that I make it home and I'll be grateful if I keep doing so.
Perhaps I should do as Hamish requests and retire from offshore...but not yet...