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The Long Drop From Nokia’s Burning Platform

Time will show how many people make it off Nokia’s platform – and how many of them get picked up.

Offshore oil rigs are dangerous places, not least because they combine being at sea together with highly combustible materials and heavy machinery. It’s the sort of work the people who write the warning labels on cold medicine want you to avoid.

On a good day, getting hurt on an oil rig is easy. Just getting there is risky. Oil companies wouldn’t plunge their offshore staff into swimming pools while strapped into helicopter mockups to practice crashes at sea unless experience had taught them it was necessary.

Bad days are scary

The odds of getting hurt when things go wrong on an oil rig are ugly. In two of the most famous accidents, the Alexander L. Kielland capsized off Norway in 1980, killing 123 people, and the Ocean Ranger sank off Newfoundland in 1982 killing 84.

Like BP’s Deepwater Horizon, oil rigs also burn. Fires are frequent enough that putting them out is a lucrative niche business (Red Adair). If you’re on the platform, and you and your colleagues cannot put out a fire right away, you don’t have many options.

Nowhere to run

Modern rigs have specialized lifeboats whose seats have five point harnesses and head straps. The drop is long and the landings dramatic. If you don’t make it to a boat, you either stay and burn or do the drop alone in what you’re wearing. Nokia’s CEO chose that choice to indicate the severity of the firm’s position and stir his staff into action.

The truth is that not everyone is going to make it

The workers lucky enough to survive the initial blast on the Deepwater Horizon had the option of jumping into the Gulf of Mexico. The drop was long, but they were jumping into calm, warm water in daylight. The survivors of the initial blast all survived the accident.

The workers on the Alexander L. Keilland were jumping into the North Sea. The waves were 12 meters tall, it was dark, it was night, and there were only 89 survivors. The Ocean Ranger went down in 100-knot winds and 20 meter waves. There were no survivors.

Time will show how many people make it off Nokia’s platform – and how many of them get picked up.

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