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It has been 15 years since the Great Yarmouth helicopter tragedy which claimed 11 lives

PUBLISHED: 15:32 09 July 2017 | UPDATED: 15:32 09 July 2017

Great Yarmouth Port Chaplain Peter Paine lays flowers in the sea at Great Yarmouth in the days after the accident. Picture: James Bass

Great Yarmouth Port Chaplain Peter Paine lays flowers in the sea at Great Yarmouth in the days after the accident. Picture: James Bass

A special service is taking place next Monday (July 17) to remember the victims of a helicopter tragedy.

The crash claimed 11 lives and had a immense impact on Great Yarmouth, which was at the centre of the rescue operation.

Anyone touched by the disaster can pay their respects at Great Yarmouth Minster at 11am when prayers will be said for the men and candles lit in their memory.

Port chaplain Peter Paine said it was a “grim episode.”

The disaster unfolded on July 16 2002 when a Sikorsky helicopter plunged 400ft into the water killing the two crewmen and nine oil rig workers on board.

The chopper had been on a routine trip from the Clipper platform, a gas rig, to the Santa Fe Monarch gas drilling rig when it went down 25 miles north east of Yarmouth.

Among the men on board six were from Norfolk, including the pilot, and one from Suffolk. The remaining men came from Scotland, Middlesbrough and Lancashire.

Mr Paine said: “I was right in the thick of it.

“I was just six months into the full-time role as chaplain. I remember it coming on the news, I remember going up to the coastguards and staying with them until about 5am listening to what was going on, and then going to Asco and seeing the first vessel bring the bodies in.

“It was a grim episode. Of the 11 two were never found.

“The impact on the town was immense because Shell was a big presence. They had their base in Lowestoft and they had lots of workers in and out from here going to their platforms.

“I was asked to go out on to the platforms to offer comfort and counselling, and we had a service on each. A book of condolence was opened and that was taken to a service at the cathedral where it was handed over to the families.”

Leading the service, marking 15 years since the tragedy, Mr Paine plans to say prayers and then outline what happened, before reading the names of those who died while lighting a candle for them at the same time.

A wreath will then be laid in the Shell porch put up after the disaster.

He added that the service was for the town and for former shell workers to remember their friends as well as to honour the “tremendous work” of all the emergency services on the night.

Air accident investigators said in the months after the chopper went down that a worn rotor blade had triggered the crash.

Experts said the blade from the main rotor fractured causing the craft to plunge into the sea and giving no hope of survival to those on board.

Petrol giant Shell, for whom three of the men worked for, erected a glass porch in the Minster in memory of the 11 who died.

The roof of the porch is shaped like a helicopter rotor blade and painted on it in gold is the name of each of the victims.

Mr Paine added that everyone was welcome at the service at 11am. Family members are not expected to attend.

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