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Vale Captain Robert "Bob" Balls

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Vale Captain Robert "Bob" Balls

Old 10th Sep 2019, 02:25
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Vale Captain Robert "Bob" Balls

We learned yesterday of Bob's death after a short illness. Bob was a pioneer, developing many of the early approvals for helicopter instrument flying in the UK in the late 60s and early 70s in the Wessex. He spent many years as a Training Captain and ran the Bristow Instrument Flying Training School in Great Yarmouth (North Denes). There wouldn't be many Bristow pilots who did their instrument training at the Instrument Flying Training School in the 80s and 90s who didn't fly with Bob. His laid back style and knowledge was appreciated by everyone who found Bell 206, Bell 212 and S-61 instrument flying difficult.
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Old 10th Sep 2019, 13:47
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Very sorry to hear the news. I flew with Bob several times while doing my IR at Gt Yarmouth in 91. He was a very relaxed and patient instructor which is what you needed while learning the black arts.


The article below is cut from the Bristow Pictures here on this site.

On March 7, 1968 I traveled to the Bristow Heliport at Tetney, near Grimsby to travel out to the Ocean Prince. The purpose of my trip was to escort some rig inspectors from The NMD (Norwegian Maritime Directorate) to the rig as we had planned to drill some wells in Norway. When we arrived at the heliport we were told that the weather was too bad to make the flight. The pilot, captain Balls said that the winds were gusting over ninety knots and the helicopter was only designed to fly in winds of less that sixty knots. The Norwegians returned to Middlesborough and I went to a hotel near the heliport. Captain Balls called me later in the day and said that the winds had modified somewhat and that it was a possibility that we could fly. I returned to the heliport. However, the Norwegians could not be reached as they were in route to Middlesborough. I went to the heliport and Captain Balls flew me to the rig, which was about one hundred miles out.

After I arrived on the rig the weather began to deteriorate once again.

I went to bed around ten thirty that night. I was sleeping in the same room with Ronald McDonald, the barge captain and George Moystin, the tool pusher. About three o’clock in the morning of March 8, a very large rouge wave hit the rig on the starboard side. The rig shuddered violently which awoke the three of us. As I awoke I looked over and saw George on all fours on the floor. I looked out of the window and saw in the rig lights a very large wave that was just moving away from the rig. That wave was followed by a series of other large waves the caused the rig to shudder and bounce off of the bottom of the sea floor.

The three of us got up, dressed and went out on the deck. The wind was very strong and the seas were very high. It was very cold. We then went to the radio room which was located just mid ship on the port side of the rig and called the rig manager who was in Middlesborough. Our call woke him. We could tell that we had disturbed his sleep. We informed him that we thought that the rig was breaking up and that we needed to be evacuated. His advice to us was to “stick with it men as it was probably not as bad as you think”. He then promptly went back to bed. We then called a mayday in to the RAF (Royal Air Force) and they informed us that the winds were in excess of what it was safe to fly a helicopter. They said that they could and would send out fixed wing aircraft to look at the conditions. A fixed wing aircraft was of no use to us. We then called Capt. Balls, our regular helicopter pilot. He was asleep in his hotel room in Scarbourgh. We explained the weather conditions to him and explained to him that it was highly possible that the rig was breaking up. When we asked him if he could fly out and rescue us, his only comment was, “Well I’ll give it a go”.

The sea temperature was near freezing. We know that if the rig broke up and we had to abandon the rig and get into the sea we would not last very long. Hypothermia would quickly set in and we would certainly die.

The stand-by boat, the Hector Ganett, was completely awash. Large waves were crashing over the bow of the boat The boat was very near the rig, however, it was generally lost from view as the bow and the decks were being completely covered with large waves crashing over the entire boat and the boat was lost from view as it was not possible to see the boat in the large wave troughs.

The rig was not fitted with survival boats, only inflatable life rafts were available on the rig. We did not have survival suits and the sea temperature was near freezing. The starboard bow life boat washed overboard and was instantly shredded as it washed up and down the forward column. Shortly after making the radio call to Capt Balls, the port after side of the rig along with the radio room fell into the sea ending any communication with the shore base. Everyone began to realize that if the rig sank we would all be lost, drowned or die of hyperthermia if we fell into the sea. No one panicked or became hysterical. I remember the rig electrician going into the engine room and turning off equipment as it fell into the sea. Everyone was on deck as the doors to the living quarters were jammed due to the rig decks being warped.

The weather was miserable. It was misting heavily and the visibility was very poor. The wind speed was far in excess of what the helicopter was designed to fly in. The stand-by boat, the life rafts and the temperature of the sea all left very little hope of survival that day.

We were very close to another drilling rig, a jack-up named the Constellation, but that fact offered us no hope. The visibility was so poor that we couldn’t see it.

The sea was so noisy that we could not hear the helicopter approaching. Someone saw it and it landed without incident. We decided that the first crew to leave the rig would be the third party personnel, i.e. non-ODECO personnel. The second crew leaving the rig was to be the off tour personnel and the last crew was to be the working (on tour) personnel. Again there was no panic, pushing or shoving. The crew (eighteen people) boarded the helicopter with no luggage. They were flown to the Constellation as was the second crew. The last crew was flown to the shore base heliport.

Only four Americans were aboard the rig when it started to break up and eventually sink. They were, George Moystyn, Joe Moystyn, Curtis Evans and myself (Paul Baumgardner)

When I reached the apartment where I was staying, I was very tired and went promptly to bed. The next day I got up and picked up some newspapers. When I began to read the newspapers, I became even more frightened that I had been aboard the rig. Less that an hour after the final helicopter took off from the rig the entire rig collapsed and sunk below the waves.

Were we heroes? Yes, perhaps but only in the sense that everyone was brave and no one panicked. The evacuation was orderly and efficient. The real hero was the helicopter pilot, Captain Balls, who rescued us in winds far in excess of what his Wessex helicopter was designed to fly. He made three landings on the Prince, two on the Jack-up Constellation and one back in Scarborough, England.

From an article in the Bristow news letter:-

“On at least three occasions, by their skill and bravery, Bristow pilots have saved rig crews in dire peril. Early in 1968, when the Ocean Prince was being pounded by hurricane force winds, Captain Robert Balls flew out to the rig from the Bristow base at Tetney, near Grimsby - a distance of 100 miles - in a Westland Wessex 60 and, loaded with the minimum of fuel, transferred the 45 members of the crew, in three trips, to another rig 20 miles away. Captain Balls was later made a Member of the Order of the British Empire, and the citation read: "....... but for his initiative, bravery and splendid airmanship, the members of the Ocean Prince crew would have probably lost their lives". Just as the last group was lifted off, the helicopter platform collapsed and, soon afterwards, pounded by mountainous seas, the Ocean Prince sank.”
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Old 10th Sep 2019, 15:06
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Thats a great story but must have been as frighting as hell for all concerned.
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