Every year on this day no matter what I will always remember the night of Lockerbie, when my life changed forever. I have written about it on my blog in the past and have an article about what happened on the website. Please read it there is more detail there of what occurred. There may be a bit on the news today hidden away even though it was a huge event 280 died on that awful night. I was the Team Leader of a superb group of people the RAF Leuchars Mountain Rescue Team based near St Andrews in Fife. We had a great team who were at the forefront of rescue in Scotland and had seen most things but this was completely different. These were tough hardy people the best, yet many like me were effected for life.
I had just taken a few days leave as my personal life was in turmoil as my ex girlfriend had left her husband and was coming to see me from down South on the 21 December. I was still in love with her and needed time to sort out my life. She arrived at 1600 at Leuchars railway station distraught and we only had 3 hours together when Lockerbie happened. At first I did not believe it when the call came as this was my first time off for a year, Jumbo jets do not crash. What a start to a night of hell.
I raced up to the Mountain Rescue Section briefed the troops and then had to go back home to sort out things. I had great people with my Deputy Raz Frew at the forefront he took the team down to Lockerbie whilst I sorted a few things out. I followed later with a Police escort all the way to the deserted M74 with the sky on fire and wreckage on the road. This was surreal, a fast party from RAF Leeming Mountain Rescue had arrived by helicopter from their Christmas party and were doing a Reece it was utter confusion. The Police force was the smallest in the UK as was the Fire Service confusion rained. My boss Bill Gault was travelling home from London when it happened and was passing Lockerbie he was there with Bill Batson the RAF Leeming Team Leader. They were the right men for the job, I arrived and briefed the troops and took over the Lockerbie High School which became our headquarters. The local MRT and Search Dogs arrived and we had so many helicopters it was like a scene from Vietnam . We had to sort it out and get some control over the helicopters from the ground the fires were raging it was too dangerous to do anything. I went and had a look and there was nothing we could do for anyone . Bodies were everywhere, Christmas presents, belongings and kids toys made this a horror scene never to forget. The smell of death, fuel,the heat and smoke along with the carnage make it so unreal to this day. We had to keep the teams out of the way till it was safe to go out a hard job, we waited it was the longest night of my life.
No one slept – we waited for the fires to go out and by 0700 we were searching and had located over 150 casualties and the Black Box. Grown men and women cried put their clothing over the bodies to give them some respect as they searched. Each man, woman, child a tragedy that still haunts me to this day. The days that followed changed many of us, we had demons and nightmares. The local teams searched for weeks and the Search and Rescue Dogs did a hugely difficult job. Little is written of these heroes a word so badly used these days. This was a scene of crime and it took several days for the bodies to be removed. As we searched new areas we passed through bodies that were now familiar to us, each a life taken a family broken for what? Many who worked in this tragedy are scarred for life, families suffered and Post Traumatic Stress was unheard off then!
I try to tell the tale because few know of the efforts of this wonderful band of people who make up Mountain Rescue. A lot is written on Lockerbie and Mountain Rescue gets little credit. I have been to so many presentations by so called “experts” and the Teams are forgotten, this must never be allowed to happen. As with the local people who opened their homes to us and showed us such kindness in amongst a tragedy. The WRVS who were there from the beginning and at the end giving us meals and drinks and at times mothers love to us all when we were so upset. The days after report writing into the wee small hours on the tragedy in great detail for the goverment. The team members dropping in as I wrote to speak about what they had seen and how they felt and then it was Christmas. Twenty three team member’s went out for the holiday period, they unwound at Kingussie a wild night I looked after them. Next day I ran with my dog to Ben Mac Dui on a bitter winters day to clear my mind alone in a world of cold and snow.The troops all keeping an eye on me at various stages on the hill. I was dressed very lightly in my running shoes and a wee bag! After that it was my night in town when they looked after me! Few understood until the nightmares and illness struck – the doctors said it was stress and an awful time. I was in a new relationship with someone you loved but I was not the same person. I had changed and Lockerbie claimed another few casualties. My new family suffered for a long time and there was little help. In the end you get by as it was all new to the doctors and grown men especially in Scotland supposed hard ones like I was supposed to be do not speak about such things. Life goes on and now I can cope and help a few who still suffer but I feel we must talk about Post Traumatic Stress and what occurs. It has been a hard journey but hopefully those who follow nowadays will get help from the lessons learned by us. A good friend who recently passed away Taff Tunnah contacted me last year and told me he had a really difficult time after Lockerbie. Taff was an RAF ex – mountain Rescue Team Leader, old school. He suffered after his work at Lockerbie where he was involved with the Mortuary side of the incident. To hear from someone as experienced as him who suffered was an eye opener for me. It was very brave thing to do and helped me immensely
It is a hard time for me on this day every year at the anniversary of Lockerbie and for others involved. I will speak too good friends who understand and can help. My family is aware of what happened to me and those involved “on that night I will never forget”
The world at times makes you want to cry at times with the awful things that happen. I was down South and heard of the murder of the innocents in the USA last week I was down with my beautiful granddaughter in Henley. She is just a wee soul and it brings home to you how awful things can happen, especially to the innocents like at Lockerbie. Life goes on and you must grab whatever happiness you can in this crazy world, I am sure there is still more good than bad in this world we live in.
I have been lucky in my life surrounded by so many great friends and people I love dearly. I have never had so many great cards and kindness from those so many good people, I am very lucky. I think it is time to get out on the hills and clear my mind.
This blog is dedicated to those who died at Lockerbie and to all who helped with the tragedy especially the Police, Fire Service the Mountain Rescue Teams and Search & Rescue Dogs – the unsung heroes of this night of tragedy.