Obituary: Offshore Survival Pioneer Dr Joe Cross OBE

A pioneer in offshore survival, Dr Joe Cross OBE, died in Aberdeenshire on 27 July 2014.

Dr Cross started as a naval safety equipment fitter in 1953 before rising to be a commissioned Royal Navy Officer.  However it was in 1975 that he became Managing Director of the Robert Gordon’s Institute of Technology (RGIT) Survival Centre in Aberdeen.

RGIT (the forerunner of the Robert Gordon University) started the centre with just two people at a crucial moment in the history of the North Sea oil industry.  North Sea exploration has been steadily revealling large fields during the early part of the 1970s.  These finds were in a harsh and demanding environment.  However, the 1973 oil crisis and subsequent oil price increases, coupled with their location in a political stable region, made these fields suddenly practical. The first production was already starting in the UK sector in 1975 and construction of massive offshore installations was underway.  Today, the ‘topside’ of installations are usually built and fitted out onshore and lifted into place nearly complete, but in the 1970s a vast workforce of construction workers were needed to assemble and fit out the superstructure on site.  Consequently in the mid 1970s the use of helicopters to support the oil and gas industry was accelerating rapidly.

As The Scotsman reported in their obituary:

The centre developed a major training facility in Aberdeen with the first simulator teaching trainees how to escape from a helicopter under water. There was also a freefall lifeboat training facility in Dundee. In 1980 he founded the IASST, to share best practice in maritime survival training around the world.

It was in 1978 that RGIT’s own School of Mechanical and Offshore Engineering designed the pioneering Helicopter Underwater Escape Training (HUET) simulator to give realistic training for Survival Centre.  The Survival Centre was eventually spun-off and became part of Petrofac Training in 2004.

Cross, who also served on the Defence Services Lifesaving Committee, was made an OBE in 1986, received an honorary MSc from the Council for National Academic Awards in 1991 and was made an honorary Doctor of Technology by Robert Gordon University in 1995, the year before he retired.

The IASST (International Association for Safety and Survival Training) commented:

Joe was the pioneer in safety training in UK that lead to the founding of IASST as he found many trainers world wide in need for assistance in starting safety training. For all those who knew Joe they will remember his fighting spirit and enthusiastic for safety training and trainers. He was also the centre of the attention with his good humour, jokes and inspiration.

Dr Joe Cross OBE (Credit: IASST)

Dr Joe Coss OBE: Born: 9 November, 1934, in Liverpool. Died: 27 July, 2014, in Ballater, aged 79.  Dr Cross moved home from Inverurie to Ballater just two days before he died and is survived by his wife Desna, children Martin, Greig, Desna and Samantha, 11 grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.

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