The Ocean Ranger seen off the coast of Newfoundland in Novemeber 1981 (CBC)

Canada history: Feb 14-15, 1982: The Ocean Ranger disaster

On Valentine’s Day, 1982, most of the 84 crew of the oil exploration/drilling rig Ocean Ranger would be thinking of loved ones far away on the mainland.

The platform was in the Atlantic over 260 kilometers from St John’s drilling exploratory wells in the Hibernia oil field for Mobil Oil.

The Ocean Ranger was  a self-propelled semi-submersible rig meaning it floated on giant ballasted pontoons 74m below the surface with a series of pumps and valves and control modules to adjust to sea conditions. It also had twelve huge 20-tonne anchors.  Because it did not float on the surface and the stabilization system, it was relatively stable in rough seas.  Launched in 1976, it was the biggest of its kind at the time, 121m long by 80m wide and 103m tall. It had previously drilled in Alaska, Ireland, and further south off the U.S coast of New Jersey before being moved to the Hibernia field in 1980 where it began operations in late 1981.

CBC News

Early on the 14th the rig got word of a winter storm coming later in the day with near hurricane force winds and waves up to 11m.  In the late afternoon, the rig pulled up its drill and prepared for the storm.

By 7 pm, two other rigs in the area reported being hit by a giant wave.

Shortly afterward, they heard radio traffic from the Ranger that it was being hit by 17m waves and occasionally waves up to 20 m. Then came a report a  porthole had been smashed in and water had hit the control room and some of the ballast controls were acting up.  Later it appeared that all was ok.

At 1:00 am on the 15th a call went out that the rig was listing. Within minutes a call went to a supply ship to move in closer, and soon after that a mayday call was heard.

At 01;30, the last call came from the Ranger that crew were taking to lifeboats.

The supply ships from two other rigs were also dispatched and tried to reach the area but headway was extremely difficult in the massive waves and the black of night.

At 02;21, one supply vessel spotted flares and moved toward a lifeboat with men in it, but as they got a line to it, the heavy waves caused the line to snap and overturned the boat into the freezing Atlantic. None were rescued.

The lifeboats which were recovered all showed damage. (video grab Youtube BDHQ)

At 02;45 another rescue ship saw the Ranger listing heavily with waves breaking over the deck which would normally have been high above the water. There appeared to be no-one aboard and all lifeboats gone.

Searching through the night and next day vessels found two life boats and some of the inflatable life rafts, but with no-one aboard. Later another ship found a lifeboat with bodies inside but was unable to recover it. It was never seen again.

In the blizzard conditions still raging on the 15th a Canadian Forces Search and Rescue Ch-113 Labrador helicopter was dispatched but there were no survivors to be picked up. (CBC News)

A rescue helicopter also arrived on scene, but by then all crew were already likely dead.

At 03;00 the damaged Ocean Ranger battered by the violent seas, turned and sank.

As the search continued, eventually 22 bodies were recovered. Autopsies revealed death was from drowning or having succumbed to  hypothermia in the frigid ocean.

A Royal Commission investigation was begun in 1982 to find the cause of the sinking and why none of the crew survived in spite of (at least some) apparently leaving the rig successfully. The investigation later found design flaws in the rig and a lack of training of the crew for emergencies involving the ballast control system. The lifesaving equipment was judged inadequate. The result of the inquiry was a change in the design and safety features of ocean rigs, and in safety equipment and training.

But, even after the disaster, the rig still proved deadly.

The sunken platform lay on the bottom at a depth of 90 metres upside down so that a portion of it was only 30 metres from the surface and considered a shipping hazard. In June 1983 two divers sent down to prepare for movement to deeper water later died, bringing the death toll to 86.  A week later, another diver was killed, possibly from an object dropped from above.

The rig was eventually towed and sunk in deeper water.  This day remains a sad day in Newfoundland as 56 of the dead were from the province and the greatest Canadian maritime disaster since WWII.

The dangers of ocean drilling were once again seen when a helicopter flying crew out to another rig crashed in the ocean in March 2009 with the loss of 17 of the 18 on board.

There has been a documentary film made of the disaster “The Ocean Ranger Disaster” (2002), a novel “February” (2009), a couple of books  including “Rig-an oral history of the Ocean Ranger Disaster” and several songs

Additional information

Categories: Environment
Tags: , , , , ,

Do you want to report an error or a typo? Click here!

@*@ Comments

Leave a Reply

Note: By submitting your comments, you acknowledge that Radio Canada International has the right to reproduce, broadcast and publicize those comments or any part thereof in any manner whatsoever. Radio Canada International does not endorse any of the views posted. Your comments will be pre-moderated and published if they meet Netiquette guidelines.

When you express your personal opinion in an online forum, you must be as courteous as if you were speaking with someone face-to-face. Insults and personal attacks will not be tolerated. To disagree with an opinion, an idea or an event is one thing, but to show disrespect for other people is quite another. Great minds don’t always think alike—and that’s precisely what makes online dialogue so interesting and valuable.

Netiquette is the set of rules of conduct governing how you should behave when communicating via the Internet. Before you post a message to a blog or forum, it’s important to read and understand these rules. Otherwise, you may be banned from posting.

  1.’s online forums are not anonymous. Users must register, and give their full name and place of residence, which are displayed alongside each of their comments. reserves the right not to publish comments if there is any doubt as to the identity of their author.
  2. Assuming the identity of another person with intent to mislead or cause harm is a serious infraction that may result in the offender being banned.
  3.’s online forums are open to everyone, without regard to age, ethnic origin, religion, gender or sexual orientation.
  4. Comments that are defamatory, hateful, racist, xenophobic, sexist, or that disparage an ethnic origin, religious affiliation or age group will not be published.
  5. In online speak, writing in ALL CAPS is considered yelling, and may be interpreted as aggressive behaviour, which is unpleasant for the people reading. Any message containing one or more words in all caps (except for initialisms and acronyms) will be rejected, as will any message containing one or more words in bold, italic or underlined characters.
  6. Use of vulgar, obscene or objectionable language is prohibited. Forums are public places and your comments could offend some users. People who use inappropriate language will be banned.
  7. Mutual respect is essential among users. Insulting, threatening or harassing another user is prohibited. You can express your disagreement with an idea without attacking anyone.
  8. Exchanging arguments and opposing views is a key component of healthy debate, but it should not turn into a dialogue or private discussion between two users who address each other without regard for the other participants. Messages of this type will not be posted.
  9. Radio Canada International publishes contents in five languages. The language used in the forums has to be the same as the contents we publish or in one of the two official languages, English or French. The usage of other languages, with the exception of some words, is forbidden. Messages that are off-topic will not be published.
  10. Making repetitive posts disrupts the flow of discussions and will not be tolerated.
  11. Adding images or any other type of file to comments is forbidden. Including hyperlinks to other websites is allowed, as long as they comply with netiquette. Radio Canada International  is in no way responsible for the content of such sites, however.
  12. Copying and pasting text written by someone else, even if you credit the author, is unacceptable if that text makes up the majority of your comment.
  13. Posting any type of advertising or call to action, in any form, to Radio Canada International  forums is prohibited.
  14. All comments and other types of content are moderated before publication. Radio Canada International  reserves the right to refuse any comment for publication.
  15. Radio Canada International  reserves the right to close a forum at any time, without notice.
  16. Radio Canada International  reserves the right to amend this code of conduct (netiquette) at any time, without notice.
  17. By participating in its online forums, you allow Radio Canada International to publish your comments on the web for an indefinite time. This also implies that these messages will be indexed by Internet search engines.
  18. Radio Canada International has no obligation to remove your messages from the web if one day you request it. We invite you to carefully consider your comments and the consequences of their posting.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *