A PIPER Alpha hero who helped save the lives of three oil workers during the 1988 oil rig disaster has said he will sell his Queen’s Gallantry Medal at auction to ensure the events are not forgotten.

Merchant Navy captain Ian MacKay was awarded the medal for his bravery during the tragedy on July 6, 1988 in which 167 men lost their lives.

He and two crew members of the diving support vessel, Lowland Cavalier, spent eight hours searching for survivors in a small fibreglass workboat. Braving intense heat, explosions and falling debris, they saved three of Piper Alpha’s crew.

Mr MacKay, 68, who suffered burns to his nose, hand and right eye. said he is selling the emotive medal as he wants “the Piper Alpha story to be remembered”.

Speaking from his home in Kilwinning, Ayrshire, he said : “I was proud to be awarded the QGM but it has been in a safe for over 30 years and I’ve only brought it out twice, on the twentieth and twenty-fifth anniversaries.

“With everything going on at the moment you look at your own mortality. I thought about who I would leave my medal to, but I’ve got two sons and two stepdaughters - the fairest thing was to put it up for auction and, hopefully, the proceeds can go towards a family holiday when we are allowed to travel again.

“I still have the QGM ribbon on my uniform, which I bring out on special occasions, and I’ve got an album of letters and press cuttings, but there’s no point in the medal sitting in a safe all these years.

“I’d like to think that by selling it, it will help keep the memory (of Piper Alpha) alive.”

The medal, still in “extremely fine” condition, will go under the hammer at Dix Noonan Webb’s sale of Orders, Decorations, Medals and Militaria in London on February 17, with an estimate of £4000 to £5000.

Mr MacKay and crewmen Chris Dunwoody and Peter Thomas were each awarded the QCM “in recognition of bravery during the hazardous evacuation and rescue operations following the explosions and fire which destroyed the Piper Alpha platform in the North Sea on the night of 6 July 1988.”

They were presented with their medals by the Queen at Buckingham Palace on 12 March 1991.

The Piper Alpha oil and gas production platform was operated by Occidental Petroleum, 120 miles off the north-east coast of Aberdeen. The disaster began at 9.55pm, when leaking gas ignited causing the first of a series of catastrophic explosions.

Of the 226 crew on the platform, 165 died and 61 were saved. A further two rescuers from the standby vessels also died.

Mr MacKay, in his harrowing account to the public inquiry that followed, recalled how the Lowland Cavalier was stationed off Piper Alpha, laying cable, when the first explosion occurred.

He and his crew immediately boarded the vessel’s small fibreglass workboat and made for the rig. They picked up two survivors before another huge explosion caused a fireball to sweep over the small craft and forced the crew to leap into the water and cling onto grablines.

Despite suffering burns from the explosion, MacKay, Dunwoody and Thomas somehow managed to climb back on board. They kept searching for survivors for the next eight hours, dodging flames and falling debris.

Around midnight, they located a third survivor in the water suffering from severe shock and burns to his face, and transferred him to another boat before relaunching to continue searching.

The sea, he recalled, was “on fire and parts were bubbling up with presumably gas.”

Mr MacKay, who was praised by Lord Cullen for his “remarkable work”, said: “At the time, we didn’t think about what we were doing - adrenaline took over and our training kicked in. There was no thought of self-preservation.

“The year after Piper Alpha wasn’t the most pleasant, but I felt a lot better after I had been called up to the inquiry. Sharing my story helped, I think.

“Being awarded the QGM gave me some closure." All three of us were nervous when we went to Buckingham Palace but it was a great experience and the Queen was wonderful.”

Christopher Mellor-Hill, Head of Client Liaison, Dix Noonan Webb, said: “The Queen’s Gallantry Medal was instituted in 1974 as primarily an award to civilians for ‘exemplary acts of bravery’. It is a scarce award and they are only sparingly awarded.

“The recipient has decided to sell it as he wanted the Alpha Piper story to be remembered. We think that a collector of life-saving bravery awards to Scottish recipients will be interested in his story and the QGM.”