The RAF Kinloss Mountain Rescue Team and the other RAF teams are there to recover aircrew from crashed aircraft and also work with the Air Investigation Board AIB after an incident at times this can be on steep and difficult ground. At times like this is when the RAF teams and their leaders are under incredible pressure. It is fortunate that we lose few aircraft but every few years 3 or 4 an epic occurs this was one of them.
On the 27 November 1979 a Jaguar aircraft crashed in the Ben Lui area. It was heading in a two ship formation for Bridge of Orchy, intending to turn west at the main glen towards Oban on the coast. Suddenly the cloud came down, and the leader told the No 2 to abort and pull up; this he did. However, on pulling out of the top of the cloud, he could not see his leader and could make no radio contact.
The two Scottish MRTs, Leuchars and Kinloss, were called out, as were several helicopters and several civilian teams, Killin, Lomond, Strathclyde and SARDA. In all over 200 searchers were involved. The weather was atrocious, remaining so for the whole of the search apart from one day. In the early hours the overnight parties returned soaked through to the skin,and soon had hung up their wet gear from every hook and nail in the Tyndrum Hotel’s hut, a pattern that was to be repeated time and again over the next three days. Wet clothes were put on every day as we ran out of kit very quick.
It was a civilian team, eventually, that found the Jaguar just over the
north-west ridge of Ben Lui. It had impacted vertically and totally
disintegrated, and it was not possible to tell at that stage whether the pilot
had ejected or had gone down with it. With no further chance of searching
that day, a massive sweep search would be required on the next day. The team
from RAF Valley was called in from the second day to provide extra manpower, and flew up that same night in a Hercules. Then on by Sea king to Bridge of Orchy. I was with the Valley team and was called off the Cfwry arete in Wales for a call-out in Scotland! We had a hill bag each and a box of composite rations with very few spare clothes. A huge mistake! We raced back to Valley and then flew by Hercules to Prestwick.
The next day was another of vile conditions. All teams went on the hill,
and attempts were made to get the accident investigation people to the
wreck, but with their lack of climbing expertise this had to be abandoned
for the time being, apart from the doctor and the photographer. A few epics followed as the pilot was located on very steep ground and the RAF in their wisdom winched a photographer to the site not dressed for winter mountaineering. He dropped his camera and some where up there is a very expensive camera! It was an epic getting him off the hill and we had a discussion with the senior officer that sent him up! In all a very difficult search and showed that an aircraft could still go missing even in this modern-day. A RAF Team was deployed by aircraft another Hercules years later to assist in the Shackleton Crash in Harris in the early 90’s. I learnt lots of lessons again from this huge search and how important the civilian teams who were heavily involved were so much part of the incident. At times the military tended to keep the information fairly tight and to get the best result you mus share it as it is the casualty that counts in the end. Hard lessons to learn especially when dealing with senior officers with limited knowledge of rescue or recovery! A few points were the incredible flying by the helicopters, I still cannot say how many we got on a Wessex on one drop off, I was terrified as usual. Also the oldest guy in the RAF teams Colin Pibworth from RAF Valley did the link on the summit of Ben Lui for 3 days. This was in the wildest of weather as communication’s were so important as the teams were all over the nearby mountains. Lots of lessons learned for the future.