And such is the situation this day in October 1985 - the drilling rig "West Vanguard" is situated precisely over Well 6407 / 6. Everything is normal onboard, the sea is rough as usual - and time is about 0900 am. The drilling crown is turning around through the layers under the seabed, and at 263 metres it suddenly hits a shallow gas filled formation. This formation was not discovered during the site investigations earlier, but everybody knew that they might happen to drill into such formations.
Onboard the "West Vanguard" the usual precautions for such cases are put to work, the gas that suddenly blows into the well is circulated out - and the drilling continues. Procedure now says that a BOP, a Blow Out Preventer shall be mounted, but at this stage the bit depth is too shallow. The gas pressure is now increasing - all too fast. Gas, sand and other solid particles streams through the gas depressurizing equipment onboard the rig, when suddenly this equipment fails.
The gas flows free out on the deck of the rig - explodes, and the rig is made into an inferno of flames.
One of the crew is killed instantly, and the tragedy is a fact.
Jan Finne is a ROV pilot, or a mini submarine pilot, and is seated in front of a video screen in the control room onboard the M/V "Arctic Surveyor". The screen gives him a sharp and clear picture of the seabed around Well 6407 / 6, the blow out well. At the same time he listens to the sound of the side scanning sonar in the loudspeaker system. A high frequent sound difference will tell him if there is metal down there. And that is the sound he is listening for.
Bergen Underwater Services, with their special ROV vessel M/V "Arctic Surveyor" is working in order to locate the 8 large anchors from "West Vanguard". The very same anchors that the crew onboard the fatal rig had to cut - to get the doomed rig away from the blow-out well. Till now BUS has found 7 of the anchors, and is now searching for the last. Pilot Jan Finne is operating the ROV, type "Scorpio", sn. 52 - which is now his eyes and ears down in the deep at 220 metres, only about 600 metres from the blow out well still belching gas. On his screen Jan can see that the seabed mainly consists of mud, now and then interrupted by a fish staring into the camera with big and surprised eyes - but outside "Scorpio"`s search light range there is only solid darkness.
Suddenly Jan register
another type of sonar sound, and he quickly reduces the scanning towards
the area to pinpoint the difference. And now the loudspeaker suddenly screams
out the highfrequent sound they all have been waiting for.
The drawing shows the Heinkel as it was found in 1985.
It was cut in two by one of the anchors of "West Vanguard"
Drawing by Kurt Monsen, based on drawings by S. O. Agdstein.
The early morning sun
shines in the blue grey paint on the floatplane "S4 + EH" anchored in the
harbour of Trondheim, Norway. It is a twin engined reconnaissance, bomb
and torpedoplane, a Heinkel He 115. The lettercode just ahead of the "Balkenkreutz",
- "S4", tells us that it belongs to the "Küstenflieger Gruppe 506",
the "E" behind the cross is the radiocall letter for this particular plane,
and the "H" means it is from the first "Staffel" of the "Gruppe". The "Balkenkreutz",
the lettercode and the swastika on the fin leaves no doubt it is a plane
from the feared "Luftwaffe".
He-115 from Kustenfliegergruppe 506 in the harbour of Trondheim.
This sunny day Leutnant zur See Rembert van Delden, observer and commanding officer of "S4 + EH" is sitting outside the Hotel Britannia with his morning coffee - listening to a military band playing. Right there and then the war seems far away - but the peace should not last for long. Leutnant van Delden observes a soldier bicycling towards him as if he should have stolen the bicycle - he recognises him as an orderly from his own unit. "Herr Leutnant, sofort Alarmstart ! You have orders to take off immediately to reconnoitre the sea Southwest of Narvik, our planes have discovered a large British naval force !" Immediately after this van Delden and his crew, as well as other crews, are gathered for instructions. The German Intelligence are very well informed, telling about large ship movements in the area they are ordered to search. van Delden and his crew enters their plane - and after two hours airborne they observes many small enemy naval units heading southwest. "S4 + EH" goes on further north, the pilot Feldwebel Augustat follows the orders given by van Delden, and the radiooperator Willi Schönfelder transmits their observations back to the base in Trondheim. After another hour airborne they suddenly observes a real "fat" target - a British battleship. It is HMS "Valiant" and some destroyers - earlier the same day they had discovered that they were shadowed by German planes. So they had asked for air cover from the aircraft carrier HMS "Ark Royal" not far away.
Onboard the "Ark Royal" there is a somewhat confused atmosphere among the air crews - "Dammit, did`nt we have a victory at that place Narvik ? And now we are withdrawing ?" Pilot and Midshipman Kearsley and Airman Eccleshall in their Skua fighter have been airborne for some time when they suddenly discover a Heinkel 115 flying in and out of the clouds over "Valiant".
Onboard "S4+EH" unfortunately
everybody have their eyes fixed at the "Valiant", just as the battleship
launches her own aircraft from the catapult. Suddenly Schönfelder
discovers the Skua closing in from behind.
Midshipman Kearsley and
Airman Eccleshall swear - "Where the hell did that bandit disappear ?"
The Skua hunts in the vicinity of "Valiant" for a while - until the fuel
gauge tells them to return to "Ark Royal". The sea is very rough and Kearsley
has to be very accurate in his approach - to land on the deck and not into
the enormous hull of "Ark Royal". Well down Kearsley makes a note in his
logbook ; "Skua a/c no. L 3024, 6Q, 800. Sqdn., patrolling "Valiant", at
2000`discovered Heinkel 115 shadowing the ship, opened fire at 300 yards,
saw panel fall off, tailgunner ceasing fire, total time airborne 4 hours"
That's it - no serious damage done ! As both Kearsley and Eccleshall believed.
They gaze at it, recognising the plane of pilot Oberleutnant "Pitt" Midderhof - a very experienced pilot, and specialist in "pick up" operations under difficult conditions. And "Pitt" Midderhof does the impossible once again - after dropping some fuel and his armed bombs, in a distance. (He later remarked - "Why not see if they worked, as I had to drop them anyway ?) Midderhof cleverly puts his 115 down, nicely along a long rolling wave. In their dinghy the crew of "S4+EH" now struggles to reach the other Heinkel, it is not easy in the rough sea.
Once they tried to kill each other - today they are the best of friends.
Text and research,
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