My early days at Kinloss – Ben More Viscount Crash at Crainlarich. Tragedy on Tower Ridge Ben Nevis

1972 Ben More Crash briefing at village hall..

When I joined the team it was a great time for me, away every weekend all over Scotland on the mountains. Every weekend a new area to arrive in after a 2-3 hour journey in the dark arriving at some village hall or tents and meeting new people in the dances each weekend. It had a great training programme fitness came first and those who managed were taught by some great characters. It was all for a reason and to be able to cope with call-outs in any weather and in any area. Not easy for a wee 7 stone weakling from Ayr. My first weekend was on the remote Munro  Mullach Na Dheiragain in the depths of winter in late January.  It was crampons on all day with the Officer in charge. He hardly spoke all day but said I did well at  he end and after that it was all uphill and fun until the call outs started. The payback begins for all the free mountaineering.

My first cook for the team  1972 – A thin wee laddie.

My first big call-out was for three Naval climbers who fell on Tower Ridge on Ben Nevis – where we located the three below the ridge. They had all fallen from the ridge and we found then in the early morning. Lochaber Mountain Rescue had asked for assistance and there were some real incredible people on that team. As one of the youngest myself and my mate Tom Mac Donald were looked after by these hard men. As a young guy it was a real hard introduction into death in the mountains. John Hinde one of the leaders I was with was asked to climb the ridge and myself and two others went with him to try to find where they had fallen from. We climbed the ridge it was wet, damp, slippy and an eye opener to me. I was look after but it was part of the job and one had to get on with it. I saw how easy it was to make a mistake and the mountains for all that wildness and beauty can hurt and even kill at times. In between there was the usual call-outs all over inured people carried out as the team had done for many years. It was all in the appreciation of being a mountaineer . It was great to see how the teams worked together and how hard they all worked. There were few orders given, these guys were the most “un – military” of people yet on a rescue they were slick and organised,  After a call-out there was little knowledge of what was going on by the press or the RAF and when we got back to work it was often to hassle as one had been away from work “skiving!” Many had snags with their careers at times from unhelpful bosses!  I had all the comments from my early bosses “head in the clouds” etc, it did not matter too me.  All that counted to me was the mountains,the Munros and climbing at weekends.

Ben More Viscount Memorial/

My first aircraft crash was for a Viscount aircraft from Glasgow that crashed on Ben More in the winter of 1973. An epic taking 2-3 days to recover the 4 casualties. Wild weather and a huge areas to search in wild conditions made it a call-out that stayed in my mind for years. As always all the teams worked well together and the locals could not do enough for the team during such a tragic event. Hundreds of people searching for people they never knew an incredible feeling.  You always hope to find people alive but it is very rare in an aircraft crash. There is a memorial to the crew in the churchyard at Crainlarich which I went in the anniversary of the crash in 2003. Meeting the family and friends who lost their lives is a humbling experience for all and how they appreciate what all the teams did to try to find their loved ones. These incidents remain with you for ever especially the early years. When I get asked why I cannot finish my book it is because a lot of the incidents I was involved in were friends or relations I got close to after an accident. It is hard to put these things aside and write. A lot of my early call-outs were the usual thing people late off the hill, no head-torches or poor navigation. Injured ankles and minor injuries  were the nature of many accidents. It was great to find them okay apart from pride. Equipment was basic and crampons were heated and bent to boots, harness for climbing were unknown and climbing gear was still simple and clothing basic. It was all to change!

Tower Ridge Ben Nevis.

About heavywhalley.MBE

Mountain Rescue Specialist. Environmentalist. Spent 37 years with RAF Mountain Rescue and 3 years with a civilian Team . Still an active Mountaineer when body slows, loves the wild places.
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5 Responses to My early days at Kinloss – Ben More Viscount Crash at Crainlarich. Tragedy on Tower Ridge Ben Nevis

  1. me says:

    Another splendid post and some rare photos. What a great story you’ve been part of.

    Like

  2. Hi Heavy,
    The Viscount callout is one of the most frightening Callouts I never attended. That may sound double dutch but let me explain. I was TL at Stafford, we were on exercise at Edale that weekend. On the Saturday morning I rang Pitreavie (Inverkiething 2161, a number that will stick in my mind forever) the controller asked me to move the team north to assist in the search. Our route to get onto the M6 was through Manchester. I asked the local police if they could liaise with the various police authorities to organise escorts through to the M6. In those days the only team vehicle with a blue light (and a bell, no siren) was the ambulance. Knowing how ‘excited’ some of the troops got when driving to a callout I decided to lead with the ambulance until we had a police escort. Once we picked them up I would go to the back as ‘protection’. The police cars were high performance vehicles and we were in a three tonner, sigs truck, two troop carrying landrovers and the ambulance; not exactly high performance. The police took us through Manchester at a very high speed, which is safe to say terrified us all. On the day the weather was bad and beginning to snow. The vehicles were sliding all over the road, but still the police pressed on. Eventually we arrived on the M6 and were left to our own devices. The further North we got the worse the weather became. The police stooped us at the top of the M6 and stood us down. We pulled into a service station for a quick brew; meanwhile the weather got worse. Eventually we were driving down the M6 back to Stafford in a whiteout. I took the lead in the Ambulance, the conditions were so bad that at one stage I followed some wheel tracks and nearly ended up driving up a bank on the side of the road (there were no crash barriers in those days). The journey was a real nightmare I had to decide whether to stop on the motorway and risk a rear end collision or continue and hope for better weather. Thankfully the weather cleared but as I say it was the most frightening callout we never attended.

    Cheers the noo,

    JimM

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  3. Archie Melrose says:

    Heavy, The Viscount crash was my last call-out before I was posted to Germany. Great black and white picture this page and many well remembered faces. Yourself 2nd left, me 4th left, and Abby Hay way at the back. Looks like moleskin breeks were still in fashion.

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