The Mighty Wessex – gone but not forgotten.

The mighty Wessex in action on the Cobbler in Southern Scotland.

The mighty Wessex in action on the Cobbler in Southern Scotland.

I was looking through some old slides and found a few that made the old heart wobble a bit. The Wessex helicopter was some aircraft and I was very lucky to have served at RAF Leuchars in Scotland and RAF Valley in Wales with the Mountain Rescue Teams. I got to know it and the crews very well. The Valley boys new that area so well and we often worked with them in North Wales at times doing 4 incidents in one day. Twice we had to bring the winchman off the hill in winter when he was left due to the weather. This was in the days when all the crew wore was flying boots, they had only basic flying gear. We soon gave then team issue boots until they convinced the powers that be that they needed decent boots. It was a tricky time taking them off a ice covered Tryfan in the dark attached to you by a rope, crazy days. By being on the same station as the helicopter you got very close to the crews and those who service it. This period made a great impact on me. It was a lovely aircraft and a real work horse. There are so many stories and some  un – repeatable but what times we had. There were also a few epics like the one on The West coast whilst trying to do the South and North Cluannie in Kintail a huge day on a weekend trip with the team. The Wessex as it did picked us up for a job on Pinnacle ridge on Skye on Sgurr Na Gillean. A climber had broken his leg and the weather was poor. The helicopter was working in Lochaber and was called across to assist. It picked us up from the ridge just two of us and my dog as manpower was needed. There was time to get any kit just what we had which limited!

It is just a short flight across to Skye and the weather was getting worse the crew tried  to get us high as possible but the cloud came in very quickly and we ended up having a bit of an epic in the big gorge of Coire a Bhasteir. It was really scary as we backed out of the gorge in the mist so close to the steep walls. We thought we were in the Corrie it was interesting! I learned about flying from that.

The gorge in the Corrie where we had an epic.

The gorge in the Corrie where we had an epic.

In the end the cloud cleared and we managed to get up to Pinnacle Ridge and help the Skye team who were pretty amazed when Mark and me got dropped off on the ridge with the dog. It was a bit of hard work to lower the casualty  down the gully and the aircraft came back after a refuel and we got picked up to take the casualty to the Broadford hospital in Skye straight after this we got called to a job at sea. This was to take an injured crewman off a fishing boat. It was a bit of a wild sea but just the normal job for the crew. It was impressive. After this we ended up at Mallaig with the casualty and then ended up spending the night there as the crew it was now dark and these were the days before Night Vision goggles. It had been a busy day and we had not eaten all day. We spent the night in a Hotel with the air crew and even the dog had steak for an evening meal. In the morning we got dropped off back with the team with some prawns from a grateful fishing boat crew! What great days so many stories – how many could you get on a Wessex? I lost count at 18 and a dog on Ben Lui – on the Jaguar crash many years ago. We had some great days with the crews and the nights at the Kingshouse in Glencoe and various places in Scotland will remain with me for ever. Seeing the aircrew in their flying suits at various chip shops make me smile.

The old haunt of Glencoe and the Wessex.

The old haunt of Glencoe and the Wessex. Photo Davy Taylor.

There are so many great stories (wait for the book) incredible flying, great characters and to see the Wessex swoop in and make a pick up on a big cliff was impressive. It would pick us up after a long day and even at times drop us off at some remote crag when we could get the aircrew up early enough.  We were so lucky to have been around at this time.


There was of course the tragic crash on Ben More on 1 Feb 1987  when we watched the Wessex crash one winters night. Tragically the local Policeman Harry Lawrie BEM was killed, that was an awful night for Killin Mrt and for us all. (See my blog on Feb 2012 on this sad part of the Wessex story) The memories live with us and we made a greater bond after this accident with crews.  After this you have to try to get back to normal life and the next day we were in another Wessex at the crash site. The crews were so professional and life continued for us all.   The Wessex went on to serve for several more years and was a constant companion on many a Rescue.

So many characters so many stories, what a great bunch of people, thanks for the memories and for all the Sea King boys your turn is next!

Unlike the recent TV one hour program where little was said about the Sea King in the mountains this will be remedied! This was truly the Golden age of SAR?


About heavywhalley.MBE

After dinner speaker Lecturer and Mountain Rescue Specialist. Environmentalist. Spent 36 years with RAF Mountain Rescue and 4 years with a civilian Team . Still an active Mountaineer and loves the wild places.
This entry was posted in Aircraft incidents, Book, Friends, Mountain rescue, mountain safety, Views Mountaineering. Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to The Mighty Wessex – gone but not forgotten.

  1. Mike Potts says:

    Heavy, loving your posts. All very timely, my coming across your blog, as my father in law Geoff Leeming (retired RAF SAR pilot) has just published his book From Borneo to Lockerbie which you might find interesting and which I’ve just finished reading. It’s fascinating to read the stories of the rescues in Scotland when he was stationed at Lossie; I’ve been out in Scottish mountain white-outs and I can only imagine the difficulties of flying a helicopter in such weather and as for the lads on the ground, your/their courage and commitment is always hugely appreciated by all of us who venture out onto the hills. Keep up the good work and the blog-posting!


  2. xs186 says:

    Hi Mike Potts – i would love to make contact with your father in law, a he probably flew an aircraft that served at RAF Manby?


  3. xs186 says:

    Sorry, should have said, the ex RAF Manby aircraft is now fully restored to taxiable condition, and we are always on the look out for ex Manby pilots that used to fly her, XS186 (JP Mk4)


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