The Queens Gallantry Medal awarded to Captain Ian MacKay of the Merchant Navy, for his gallantry during the Piper Alpha oil rig disaster of 6 July 1988 will be offered by Dix Noonan Webb
in their live/ online auction of Orders, Decorations, Medals and Militaria on Wednesday, February 17, 2021 on their website www.dnw.co.uk. The medal is being sold by Mr Mackay, who is now 68 years old, and was born in Johnstone, Renfrewshire. It is expected to fetch £4,000-5,000 and is being sold with copies of various official letters, including ones from Downing Street, regarding the award and investiture.
Over a period of eight hours, with two other members of the crew of the diving support vessel, Lowland Cavalier, MacKay, in a small fibreglass workboat, braved intense heat, explosions, and falling debris, and went on to save three of Piper Alphas crew, despite suffering burns to his nose, hand, and right eye.
Piper Alpha was a North Sea oil production platform, operated by Occidental Petroleum (Caledonia) Limited from 1976. Located approximately 120 miles off the north-east coast of Aberdeen, Scotland, Piper Alpha was originally an oil only platform but had later converted to add gas production. At 21.55 hours on 6 July 1988 leaking gas ignited, causing the first of a series of catastrophic explosions that would eventually totally destroy the platform. Of the crew of 226 who were on the platform on the night of the 6 July, 165 died and 61 were saved. A further 2 rescuers from the standby vessels, also died. At the time of the disaster, the platform accounted for approximately 10% of North Sea oil and gas production, and was the worst offshore oil disaster in terms of lives lost and industry impact.
On the evening of the disaster, Ian MacKay was serving as Second in Command of the diving support vessel, Lowland Cavalier, which was stationed off Piper Alpha, laying cable. At the time of the first explosion aboard the rig, MacKay, along with two other members of the crew, immediately boarded the Lowland Cavaliers small fibreglass workboat and made for the rig. On reaching the rig, they were able to pick up two survivors before there was another huge explosion, resulting in a fireball rolling over the small craft. Pulling off with the engine full astern, the heat was so intense that MacKay and his crew had to jump into the water, hanging onto the workboat as best they could until free from the fire. Despite suffering burns to his nose, hand and right eye from the explosion, MacKay and crew would continue their search for survivors for the next eight hours, often dodging flames and falling debris.
For their Gallantry during the disaster, MacKay and his crew on the Lowland Cavaliers workboat, Chris Dunwoody and Peter Thomas, were each awarded the Queens Gallantry Medal. They were presented with their medals by H.M. the Queen at Buckingham Palace on 12 March 1991. MacKay was also presented with a Shipping Industry Numast award.
Christopher Mellor-Hill, Head of Client Liaison (Associate Director) of Dix, Noonan, Webb, commented: The Queens Gallantry Medal was instituted in 1974 as primarily an award to civilians for exemplary acts of bravery, though the Q.G.M can be awarded to military personnel where the bravery performed would not be deemed suitable for a military decoration. The Q.G.M is a scarce award and are only sparingly awarded.
He goes on to say: The recipient has decided to sell it as he wanted the Piper Alpha story to be remembered and best while he is still alive and compos mentis to make this decision as he has more than one grandchild and the medal cannot be split between them to pass on!
He finished: We think that a collector of life saving bravery awards to Scottish recipients will be interested in his story and the Q.G.M.