Paul Sacuta remembered for tackling helicopter tragedy

Ashley Fitzpatrick
Published on May 13, 2013
Paul Sacuta, known for his work carrying Hibernia through the aftermath of the tragic Flight 491 crash, died Wednesday after a battle with cancer.
— Submitted photo

Paul Sacuta led the Hibernia management team through one of the most trying periods to date in the history of Newfoundland and Labrador's offshore oil industry - following the crash of Cougar Helicopters Flight 491.

He worked as an offshore engineering supervisor for ExxonMobil before becoming president of the Hibernia Management and Development Co. (HMDC) - the consortium of companies that own the Hibernia oilfield - in 2007.

Early on, he was an advocate for the project and offshore industry. "(Hibernia) is the foundation of the Newfoundland oil and gas industry, which is powering the provincial economy," he told The Telegram, following his appointment.

He supported charitable contributions, presenting company donations in person for everything from the School Lunch Association to the Health Care Foundation and the Canadian Cancer Society.

When ExxonMobil Canada provided a $100,000 donation to Daffodil Place project in June 2008, he revealed a strong, personal support for the project, having been diagnosed with prostate cancer at age 46.

Sacuta died Wednesday, May 8, at the age of 52. Cancer ultimately claimed his life.

Prior to his death, he managed to carry HMDC and, in part, the industry as a whole, through the loss of a transport helicopter and 17 lives in the North Atlantic.

For him, it began with a phone call shortly after 10 a.m. on March 12, 2009.

The Hibernia team had booked two seats aboard the flight to get contract workers to the platform, to help with a planned weeklong shutdown for maintenance.

"I remember that day - I'll remember it for the rest of my life," he said, testifying at the inquiry into offshore helicopter safety in 2010.

Information sessions and town hall meetings were held for Hibernia staff offshore and onshore beginning the night of the crash.

In the aftermath, he fielded public accusations of an unsafe work environment and unsafe transportation for offshore workers, even while making the trip to and from the Hibernia platform himself an average 10 times a year.

"There is nothing more important than the safety of our workforce," he told the inquiry.

"I realize we had a tragic event on March 12, and I realize the loss was great and that it impacted many people and changed many lives.

"But our industry is still a safe one. ... We have an engaged workforce - both offshore and onshore. And our injury statistics have been much lower than the provincial averages."

He went before the inquiry in January of 2010. In July, he handed the reins of HMDC over to St. John's native Paul Leonard.

"The ExxonMobil Canada and Hibernia teams are deeply saddened by the passing of a great leader and our dear friend," said Andrew Barry, president of ExxonMobil Canada, when contacted by The Telegram this week.

"Paul made a positive impact on the lives of so many people. His loss will be felt by many. Paul's legacy of professionalism, leadership, humour and caring will be remembered and cherished by all who were truly blessed to have spent time with him."