One of the heroes of the Piper Alpha disaster has died of cancer at the age of 56.
Iain Letham was a coxswain on the vessel, Zodiac, a rigid inflatable craft, which responded to the fire which engulfed the rig in 1988, causing the deaths of 167 men.
Without any regard for his own safety, Mr Letham braved the flames during the rescue mission to get to the devastated oil platform and helped save lives amidst the inferno.
He said of his experiences, during the worst catastrophe in the history of the North Sea: “There was a big explosion and I was just conscious of ending up in the water.
“All my gear melted – my hardhat and lifejacket just melted.”
While in the water, he himself was helped by another survivor, Bob Ballantyne, who recalled, prior to his death in 2004: “Iain was on the Zodiac that had come in to pick people up and then it blew up and Iain was the only survivor.
“And Iain floated by me with his lifejacket and hat on. And I pulled him in beside me. I just
wanted someone to talk to, or somebody to be with me, that I wouldn’t be by myself. That there was another human being there.”
Mr Letham, originally from Muir of Ord, was later awarded the George Medal – the highest civilian decoration for bravery – by the Queen at Buckingham Palace.
Deirdre Michie, the chief executive of Oil & Gas UK, said yesterday: “Iain Letham saved many lives that night with his courageous response to the unfolding disaster.
“We remain in his debt for the bravery he showed then, and for his ongoing commitment to rescue and recovery in the years following.
“We owe it to him, and to the many of our colleagues who could not be saved, to always strive for the highest standards of safety.
“Our thoughts are with his family at this time.”
North-east MSP, Lewis Macdonald also paid tribute to Mr Letham, who was subsequently employed by Maritime Rescue Services Ltd as a senior instructor of sea survival and rescue for workers in the offshore standby vessel industry.
Mr Macdonald said: “There are men alive today who wouldn’t be without the heroism shown by Iain Letham.
“He was one of those who showed remarkable courage on that awful night and his efforts were carried out in the worst possible circumstances.
“It is very sad to hear he has died and at such a young age, but he will never be forgotten.”
Mr Letham was being treated at the Forth Valley Royal Hospital in Larbert.