Remembering the 84 souls lost at sea in 1982, and how the Ocean Ranger tragedy impacted rookie broadcaster turned seasoned anchor Glen Carter’s career
Glen Carter was 25 when The Ocean Ranger went down.
A rookie broadcast reporter at NTV – new to the television business after cutting his journalistic teeth in print and radio – he was propelled into a story that would instantly break the province’s heart.
The Ranger Disaster
It’s been 37 years since the cruel Atlantic swallowed the towering rig – claiming all 84 souls – but no news story has caused us as much grief or torment.
An award-winning journalist and seasoned anchor, Carter, now 61, has filed his share of heart-breaking stories from newsrooms all over the nation. There’s the unimaginable 1990s story where a toddler was murdered in Ottawa – his tiny body discovered in a dumpster just feet from where Carter was reporting live that day.
Even in his own Ottawa CJOH-TV newsroom in 1995, Carter’s close colleague, Brian Smith, was gunned down by a deranged man as his friend exited the building. “This business can be tough,” says Carter, who has also filed his share of tragedies at stations across the Maritimes and western Canada.
The Ranger disaster, though, still resonates. Carter, now a senior anchor on the award-winning NTV Evening Newshour, was actually on the story just days before it happened in ‘82, sending a warning signal to viewers that danger loomed aboard that ill-fated rig. He’d received an anonymous phone call a week earlier from someone with an ominous tip – the rig had listed dangerously only days before.
“Sometimes news comes to you that way — tips and documents in brown paper envelopes,” says Carter. “Sometimes it’s a voice at the other end of the telephone – someone who doesn’t want their name used, but who wants to get a story out there.”
What the caller had to say was astounding. Carter peppered him with questions, scribbling notes on a napkin. The rumors appeared true about what some offshore workers were calling the Ocean Danger. The talented journalist investigated and, within days, would file a prophetic piece on NTV, citing serious concerns for those aboard the doomed rig. “Not even Newfoundland’s offshore regulator knew what was really going on out there at the time,” he says.
A Rogue Wave
The facts that surround the sinking of the Ocean Ranger are seared into the collective consciousness of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians. A fierce North Atlantic storm battered the rig for hours before a rogue wave smashed through a port hole in one of the rig’s legs, soaking the ballast control system. From that point on the rig was doomed. A list developed and technicians who thought they were fixing the problem, actually made it worse.
“That’s what made the tragedy so heartbreaking, knowing that many of the men aboard didn’t have the necessary training to take the right action,” he says.
The radio communications between the rig and Mobil Oil’s St. John’s base were ominous. Mobil’s rig superintendent listened as a voice far out to sea reported at 1 a.m. that the rig was listing badly. It was a grim message to receive from an oil rig, hung off and riding it out at the epicenter of a weather bomb.
Winds were up to 90 knots and waves almost five storeys high. At over 120 metres long and standing 100 metres tall, the Ranger was the largest rig of its kind when it was launched in 1976. Some thought it was unsinkable, but history tells a different story. The Ranger sinking would become the nation’s greatest marine disaster.
Despite the many improvements to offshore safety, most of which were a result of what happened aboard the Ranger, the loved ones of offshore workers still fret, especially during a storm. Of the 84 men on the Ranger in February of ’82, 56 of them were Newfoundlanders.
On that fateful night, Mobil’s emergency response team was called in and the coast guard was notified. It was shortly after, that a second radio message arrived — a message that would send chills through Mobil’s Atlantic Place radio operations centre.
“There will be no further radio communications from the Ocean Ranger. We are going to lifeboat stations,” it said.
It was the last message from the doomed rig.
Carter’s warning wouldn’t save the 84 lives at sea that February day. The inquiry and recommendations that followed that disaster would ensure those men did not die in vain.
Carter left the province for other television opportunities not long after the Ranger went down. He’d spent several years as a reporter/anchor at ATV News in Halifax. Police in the Maritimes can sometimes be as colourful as Newfoundland and Labrador.
Carter recalls one story in particular. There were accusations of drug use against New Brunswick’s then-premier Richard Hatfield. Tired of the denials from the premier, Carter tracked down a young man, holed up in a Halifax hotel, who had snorted cocaine with Hatfield aboard a government jet, on its way to New York City. The story was heavily vetted, lawyered, and aired. “Hatfield was an interesting guy,” Carter says wryly.
On several occasions, Carter’s work brought him back to the province of his birth. One of those times was Dec. 12 of 1985. Carter was awakened by a phone call from his ATV news director. A plane had crashed in Gander. A short time later he was on his way. The Arrow Air disaster dominated news around the world and Carter was in the thick of it, feeding stories to Halifax, and doing live “hits” with anchors back in Halifax.
“It’s a thing about this business,” he says, “One minute you’re planning your morning coffee, and the next minute you’re packing to cover a story that will be seen that night by hundreds of thousands of people.”
Carter admits to being plagued by homesickness throughout his mainland career, and eventually the opportunity came, to return to where it all began for him, NTV. An offer was made, and accepted and in August of 2005, Carter returned home.
His love of storytelling has broadened to the flight of fiction. He has three published novels under his belt. His love affair with words has gifted many rewards, his entire life.
“I’m a lucky guy,” he says, smiling. “I love going in to work, connecting every night with NTV’s huge audience – being around great, dedicated people every day in the newsroom,” Carter smiles wide. “Who wouldn’t love it?”
Industry wake-up call
But some stories reverberate more than others. He was the chief reporter for NTV’s coverage of the Cougar helicopter crash in March of 2009. That tragedy claimed the lives of 16 people who were heading offshore, to the Hibernia platform, when it plunged into the Atlantic. Only one person would survive and, like the Ranger, it would be a wake-up call to the industry, the provincial and federal governments and the people of Newfoundland and Labrador.
The name itself, The Ocean Ranger, still evokes so much pain for so many. There’s a full church of broken hearts each February in St. John’s to remember those lost that day, men who will never be forgotten.
And it’s a story that has had a lasting impact on Carter’s career. “I’ll never forget it,” he says.