Prince Charles on Friday visited survivors burned in the Piper Alpha oil rig disaster, bringing solace and equipment needed to treat their burns, and troubleshooter "Red" Adair flew to the North Sea platform to help plug gas leaks.
Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher also flew to Aberdeen to console families of those killed in the world's worst oilfield disaster - an explosion and fire Wednesday night in which 166 men died.Armand Hammer, chairman of Occidental Petroleum, visited some of the 64 survivors and said his company, which owns the platform, was donating $1.7 million to a trust fund for the injured and bereaved. The British government gave a like sum and the European Economic Community added $952,000.
Seventeen bodies had been recovered by Friday night, and rescuers said they had no hope for 149 men still missing in the field 120 miles east of Scotland.
The search operation was over and boats would not be going out Saturday, a coast guard spokesman said, speaking on condition of anonymity in keeping with British regulations. But he said the Tharos support vessel would remain in the area and would be on the lookout for more bodies.
"We of course gave up any chance of finding anyone else alive, most regrettably, at sunset last night," 24 hours after the disaster, said Derek Ancona, commander of the Aberdeen search and rescue region. He spoke with the British Broadcasting Corp.
Harry Calder, a 35-year-old survivor, said at least 100 men died screaming for help, trapped in their sleeping quarters after surviving the first explosion. Calder said he and a colleague escaped through a door, crawled along scalding hot pipes and jumped more than 100 feet into the sea.
Hammer told a news conference many victims may have been trapped in the living quarters, which burned and sank.
"I think we have taken every precaution we know how," he said. "You
must remember this is the first time in 12 years that we've had a casualty on any of our rigs."
Charles, heir the throne, and his wife, Princess Diana, were driven to the emergency entrance of the Aberdeen Royal Infirmary and spoke briefly with doctors before going to visit the injured.
Charles brought with him skin graft equipment for the infirmary's burn unit to replace a machine that was not working properly.
"It was much needed," said Oliver Fenton, a plastic surgeon. "We were having to shuttle the only one working effectively round the operating theaters."
The royal couple spent an hour visiting 18 of the less seriously injured being treated there, conversing quietly and sometimes sitting on the sides of the beds. They later talked with rescuers at a search vessel in the harbor.
Occidental said it believed a gas leak under the platform's living quarters caused the disaster, which prompted the shutdown of five other fields in the area.
About 120 workers on British Petroleum's West Sole gas platform resigned Friday, saying they were concerned about safety.
Flags flew at half-staff in Aberdeen, capital of Britain's North Sea oil industry, when Thatcher arrived at the Aberdeen Royal Infirmary. "I'm amazed at how well they are in themselves," she said. "Even though they have burns and internal burns, their morale is very high. These are people with great inner strength and great capacity to tackle the disaster." The international rescue operation involved 30 ships, 15 helicopters and a Royal Air Force reconnaissance plane. It resumed at dawn Friday with six ships, one mobile rig and one helicopter, the Coast Guard said.
Those missing and presumed dead include two men in a rescue boat that vanished into the flames, and Occidental revised the number aboard the Piper Alpha from 232 to 230.
Of the nine foreigners aboard, only Eric Brianchon of France was listed among the survivors. The others were two Americans, two Canadians, a South African, a West German, a Portuguese and a Spaniard.
Occidental called in Adair, 73, to help stop the leaks and put out the fire that persisted in the burned-out skeleton of the Piper Alpha, fed by gas causing sporadic explosions.
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