How Schlumberger & Co left a horrific scar on Ghanaian oil worker

Godfred Amankwa (left) and Ebenezer Ampofo (right)

It may be a bit bizarre for an adult to panic and run for cover at the sound of a helicopter but 40-year-old Godfred Amankwa, a welder at the Takoradi Light Industrial Area does.

“I hate helicopters. I hate aeroplanes. It’s a nightmare for me to hear their sound. I can’t stand it”, Amankwa told in an interview at his welding shop at the Takoradi Light Industrial area popularly known as Kokompe.

Amankwa has still not recovered fully from a helicopter crash he survived in 2014. He has been suffering from a post-traumatic stress disorder – a condition that keeps reminding him of that terrifying incident.

Amankwa is one of four survivors who escaped that dreadful incident which occurred on May 8, 2014 when the helicopter carrying eight petroleum workers to work on an oil rig offshore western Ghana, became faulty and crash-landed into the deep sea, killing four of the occupants in the process.

Since then, the sound of aircraft reminds Amankwa of the incident and makes him lose his sense of control.

Friends have mocked him for behaving childish and abnormally whenever he falls into such moods but others who know about his traumatic experience, sympathise with him.

Amankwa recounts that he regrets embarking on that journey.

“I think it’s the most unfortunate decision I have ever made. That single incident has left an indelible scar on my life,” he said as his eyes are filled with tears.

Dr. Dominic Konadu Yeboah, a Fracture and Trauma Specialist at the Komfo Anokye Teaching Hospital in Kumasi, says Amankwa would require the assistance of a Clinical Psychologist to address his condition.

He said without treatment, Amankwa’s condition could persist as long as he lives.

But, narrating how it all started, Amankwa said he and his friends were recruited by Toni Nimoh Metal Works, a Takoradi-based  welding and fabrication company, to work for the American Oil services company, Schlumberger, through the latter’s subsidiary, M. I.  Swaco.

Schlumberger at the time, had secured a contract from Lukoil to repair one of its rigs offshore Cape Three Point.

Acting through its subsidiary M. I.  Swaco, Schlumberger subcontracted Toni Nimoh Metal Works to execute part of the contract on its behalf.

It was a rainy morning on that fateful day when Amankwa and his colleagues boarded the helicopter named “Black Hawk” at the Takoradi Airforce Base.

The aircraft belonged to International Aircraft Services Limited, an Ivorian-based aviation company and was hired to convey the workers to the rig.

The aircraft took off at about 11:30 am. However, barely 15 minutes afterwards, Amankwa said he saw smoke billowing from the back seat.

“So I started shouting: smoke! smoke! but within seconds, the pilots lost control and the helicopter crash-landed into the sea, about four nautical miles from the shore,” he said.

He said though frightened, he gathered courage, loosened his seat belt and smashed the window of the aircraft and got out of the sinking chopper.

While floating on the water with his life jacket on, he realized that four other persons including one of the pilots had also managed to escape and were floating as well.

The four others were Ebenezer Ampofo, Michael Ametepee, Alistair (co-pilot) and Samuel Sambo.

Three of the occupants, he said, died instantly after the crash. They were Pascal Jagut (co-pilot), Ejiofor Emesil and Walter Agotimevor.

He said the survivors floated on the water for about three hours before a rescue team could arrive.

Samuel Sambo, who was critically injured and had a puncture on his life jacket, he said, unfortunately died before the rescue team got to the scene, reducing the number of survivors to four.

He said the surviving victims were rushed to the S.O.S hospital in Takoradi with the exception of Michael Ametepee who was flown to Accra to undergo surgery due to a deep cut he sustained on his jaw.

The following day, Ebenezer Ampofo, Alistair and Amankwa were discharged from the. S.O.S hospital and sent to one of Schlumberger’s residential facilities at the Takoradi Beach Road where officials of Schlumberger and government paid the victims a visit and sympathised with them.

There was no psychological assistance offered to them, he said.

However, government set up an Investigative Committee to unravel the mystery surrounding the incident and to proffer recommendation on the way forward. Amankwa says he and his colleagues cooperated with the committee on the task but that was the end of the story.

“We never heard from them again. We kept chasing them with phone calls and so on for them to at least, disclose to us the findings of their report but it never happened”, he said.

He said the report of the Investigative Committee was submitted to the then Minister of Transport, Madam Dzifa Ativor, and that several visits to her office to impress upon her to disclose the findings to them proved futile.

“That report had been kept in secrecy till date”, he said.

He said another sad aspect of that whole episode was that, no compensation was paid to any of the surviving victims.

“They’ve all been quiet on the matter and have decided not to grant us any audience. Schlumberger, M. I. Swaco, Toni Nimoh Metal Works, Lukoil, International Aircraft Services and the government have all abandoned us. This is very unfair and inhumane”, he said.

When contacted Schlumberger and Toni Nimoh Metal Works, both companies declined to comment on the matter.

Meanwhile, Amankwa and Ampofo recently petitioned the Petroleum Commission (PC) to look into the matter but are yet to receive a response.

Currently, Ametepee still works for Schlumberger after his successful surgery.  Ampofo is jobless while Alistair had since returned to his home country – the United Kingdom (UK).

Amankwa continues to work at his welding shop at Kokompe but he is yet to find a remedy to his worst fear – the sound of a helicopter!

By Marlvin-James Dadzie

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