The nearby diving support vessel Lowland Cavalier reported the initial explosion just before 22:00, and the second explosion occurred twenty two minutes later. By the time civil and military rescue helicopters reached the scene, flames over one hundred metres in height and visible as far as one hundred km (120 km from the Maersk Highlander) away prevented safe approach. Tharos, a specialist firefighting vessel, was able to approach the platform, but could not prevent the rupture of the Tartan pipeline, about two hours after the start of the disaster, and it was forced to retreat due to the intensity of the fire. Two crewmen from the standby vessel MV Sandhaven Fast Rescue Craft were killed when an explosion on the platform destroyed their Fast Rescue Craft, the survivor Ian Letham later received the George Medal. The largest number of survivors (37 out of 59) were recovered by the Fast Rescue Craft MV Silver Pit; coxswain James Clark later received the George Medal. Others awarded the George Medal were Charles Haffey from Methil, Andrew Kiloh from Aberdeen, and James McNeill from Oban.
The blazing remains of the platform were eventually extinguished three weeks later by a team led by famed firefighter Red Adair, despite reported conditions of 80 mph (130 km/h) winds and 70-foot (20 m) waves.