Barney Phillips remembers when riding a helicopter was exciting. Now it is all in a week's work.
Phillips, who is a wire line mechanic on Platform A, an XTO Energy platform in Cook Inlet, has spent much of his adult life working in the oil industry.
XTO Energy owns two oil platforms in the inlet. Platform A is the oldest in the region and originally was owned by Shell.
Phillips works one week on and one week off. Every week, he arrives at XTO's office in Nikiski and boards a helicopter for work.
Employees say it is always a welcome sight when the helicopter arrives at the end of the week.
For Phillips, the job is a way of life. He said when he first started, vibrations from ice smacking into the legs of the platform took some getting used to. But now, he said he hardly notices.
Phillips started his career working for Otis Engineering in Houston. Later he moved to Alaska and has worked on platforms and the North Slope.
He said the wind and weather are much different in Alaska than they are Outside, sometimes making working conditions difficult. Things can be especially difficult when good weather does not coincide with the end of a long week's work, he said.
It is not unusual for foul weather to prevent the workers from being transported home. Often they have to wait on the platform until conditions improve.
With humming machines everywhere, ice coated surfaces, mountains and water in every direction and some fresh breakfast burritos in the kitchen, the platform is designed to be not only a workplace, but also a home for the crew.
Employees on Platform A work 12-hour shifts. Bill Fischer, an operator, said at the end of the day, the crew usually does not do much socializing because they are so exhausted. Often, he will go to his room, call home or watch television for a while, he said. Sometimes he just enjoys the view.
"I tell you what there's not a better view in the world (than) from out here," he said.
Phillips said there is a lot of camaraderie among the crew.
"You have to get along," he said. "It's a small place."
He said the crew knows each other's families.
Phillips said being away from his family every other week is not a big deal.
"They really don't know anything different," he said.
And it is his family's livelihood. In fact, he said if he spends more than his usual week at home, his wife can get grumpy about it. She likes her free time, he said.
'Weekend' takes on different meaning for platform crews
CPGH staff grieving from losses
By PHIL HERMANEK
For the third time in as many months, tragedy befell employees and staff members of Central Peninsula General Hospital on Wednesday when a hospital maintenance man and his wife were killed in a head-on collision on the Seward Highway.
Forty-nine-year-old Jay W. Stafford, one of four runners-up for this year's CPGH Employee of the Year honors, and his wife, Teressa, 40, were killed at about 3 p.m. when the 1991 Dodge Caravan in which they were traveling was hit by a semi-tractor trailer that crossed the centerline on the Canyon Creek bridge near the Hope cutoff.
In January, hospital workers were saddened to learn another Employee of the Year nominee who received honorable mention, Michelle Odom Maheras, 42, died suddenly at her home.
Maheras had worked at the hospital in dietary services. She is survived by her husband of 12 years, Thanos Maheras, and 8-year-old son, Antonio, as well as her parents, two sisters and extended family.
Employees arriving to work Dec. 22, learned that Dr. Tina Juul-dam, 29, of Los Altos, Calif., a medical doctor working with Kenai Peninsula internists at CPGH in an internal medicine residency program, was killed in a head-on collision on the Sterling Highway in Sterling.
Another doctor participating in the same University of Washington-sponsored residency program, Dr. William Weppner, 29, of Boise, Idaho, was seriously injured in the wreck and was flown to Harborview Medical Center in Seattle for treatment.
The driver of the vehicle that crossed over the centerline and struck the doctors' vehicle, David Leach, 20, of Soldotna, died of injuries sustained in the crash about 10 hours afterward.
On Thursday, CPGH administrators arranged for grief counselors and members of the clergy to be available to hospital workers in one of the facility's conference rooms throughout the day.
"We've had a tragic series of events over a short period of time," said CPGH Chief Executive Officer David Gilbreath.
"When the physician died, we offered counseling to the staff and to the physicians. When Michelle Maheras died suddenly, we offered counseling to the employees who worked closely with her, and the clergy was here. Today, we're offering people the opportunity to meet with the clergy in our conference room," Gilbreath said.
He said he e-mailed all the hospital employees and staff members to inform them of the accident that took the Staffords' lives.
At an already planned meeting of the hospital department directors Thursday afternoon, Gilbreath said he would call for a moment of silence and assure that all employees "support and uphold one another."
"We're somewhat used to tragedy and death as it comes through our emergency department, but we're affected differently when it's one of our co-workers," he said.
"The staff is very resilient and I am proud of everybody," he said.
Gilbreath said plans are in the works to take up a collection to benefit the Staffords' three teenage children: Danielle, 16, Jaclyn, 14, and Travis, 13.
Hospital Human Resources Vice President Debi Honer said the Staffords' church has set up an account to benefit the family. Donations may be directed to the Abundant Life Assembly account for the Stafford children at Wells Fargo Bank in Soldotna.
Alaska State Troopers are continuing to investigate the cause of the crash on the snow-covered highway bridge.
On Friday, trooper public information officer Greg Wilkinson said the mechanical inspection of the tractor trailer truck was continuing and troopers were interviewing witnesses.
The Staffords were returning from a shopping trip in Anchorage when Gilbert D. Montiel, 50, of Chugiak, lost control of a northbound 1985 Freightliner tractor trailer truck, skidded across the centerline and struck the Staffords' van head-on, killing them.
Troopers said speed may have been a factor.
Montiel was returning the empty 60-foot truck, leased from K&K Enterprises, from Seward to his home in Chugiak.
Two days earlier, according to a trooper report, Montiel was involved in a motor-vehicle accident on Nash Road in Seward while driving the same tractor truck with a side dump trailer.
His eastbound truck slid out of control on a slush-covered road surface, crossed into the westbound lane and struck a 1995 Ford pickup, driven by Zach Coots, 18, of Seward.
The pickup was forced down an embankment and the tractor-trailer corrected back into its lane, but then went off the road, partially down the embankment. Heavy equipment was used to bring the tractor trailer back onto the roadway.
No injuries were reported in that accident. Damage to the vehicles was estimated at $10,000.
Montiel was cited for basic speed, and the registered sex offender was warned by troopers to come into compliance with Sex Offender Registration Program requirements.
Wilkinson said sex offenders not in compliance are not customarily arrested for the violation, but they are issued a summons to court or are told by law enforcement officers to comply with program requirements.
As of Friday, Montiel has not been cited or arrested in conjunction with the fatal accident.
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