Make sure that your password file is in the correct location ($ORACLE_HOME/dbs/orapw$ORACLE_SID for HPUX & 8.1.7). If you don't have privileges to write to that directory/file, then orapwd will probably complain with an error like the one you mention. Are you sure that your $ORACLE_HOME directory is still intact? Is it possible that when your server crashed, the filesystem was corrupted somehow such that your 8.1.7 ORACLE_HOME is corrupted somehow? You did mention that your test 8.1.7 instance came back okay, so I suppose things are "mostly" back, but if the password file is missing or corrupted for the production instance, something must have caused it to disappear.
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