Turkish Aircraft Crash Mt Suphan 1959 – Limited gear and a map with a scale of 18 miles to the inch

Avro Tudor

Avro Tudor

In 1959 an Avro Tudor crashed on Mount Suphan 14,547 feet in winter it had secret equipment for Woomera Rocket Test site in Australia. The RAF Mountain Rescue Team from Cyprus were called in to find it. It was a hugely epic call-out. It was the Mountain Rescue Teams from Nicosia in Cyprus that was called to assist, it was the teams first serious call-out and occurred at Altitude over 14000 and in winter.
The Avro Tudor was on charter from Air Charters Ltd of London and en-route to Australia carrying top-secret equipment for Woomera. It went missing on the Ankara to Bahrain section on April 25th. It  was carrying 12 men.  The Tudor sent a message when it was near Lake Van a large lake surrounded by mountains near the Soviet Armenian Border.After that there was silence it did not arrive at Bahrain next day.  There was a huge search by various aircraft over 50,000 hours of flying was involved. On the 29 th of April a Hastings played on a hunch and the aircraft was spotted near the summit, less than 4 hours later the Cyprus team was airborne.
The fact that the aircraft was carrying secret equipment that the RAF Team should reach the crash site as soon as possible. The Tudor was a total wreck and there was no signs of life, indeed at that altitude and after 5 nights none could be expected. The Team flew to an airfield in Turkey and had a huge drive 160 miles to Mount Suphan. From 60 miles away the mountains looked like a huge featureless Cairngorm Plateau. They reached the village of Nursencik at 6500 feet on the shores of Lake Van. Next morning 4 experienced Team Members  would go to the summit, they were Jack Emmerson, Whelan, Bottomer and Costall all were experienced mountaineers  with various aircraft technical skills. There were 9 in support, carrying tents, clothing and food. The only maps they had were aeronautical charts 16 miles to the inch.   It was hard work but they made 11000 feet in poor conditions and the batteries in the radios froze. Next day they had a real difficult day and Hastings flew over and dropped two canisters at the crash site. They climbed the West peak and too their dismay the East Peak was over 2 mile and a drop off about 1000 feet. A helicopter had dropped another party at 11000 feet  on the West peak with  they had no tents, they were also too far to the West.  What ensued was a very difficult period where eventually both groups met up after bring another tent from the first nights camp site. They had six men squeezed into 2 tents , the rest went back after a huge day moving a tent higher up the mountain. Next day they located the wreckage and the bodies and tried to destroy any secret equipment left. They had taken 2 hours to climb the last 800 feet. They found the top like a saucer-shaped depression like a volcano. It is hard to imagine their thoughts?
They were exhausted high on a big mountain and 12 casualties to find and then to locate and bury and the  secret equipment they sought and destroy it. It must have been a grim task and they must have felt very alone and vulnerable. The map as we said told them little a scale of 18 miles to the inch! They must have been hoping the weather would hold. After it was all done as best they could and then descend at 900 feet they sent up a flare and a helicopter came in and picked them up. By now some demolition experts came in but none were mountaineers, the tales of the next few days are incredible and well told in several books. These are “Whensover” and “Two Star Red” in the end another drop by a Hastings allowed two troops carried out the demolition though they had no training in this! A fuse did not work and one of the troops reset it. It is an incredible story and a huge effort by all concerned. A few were recognized by receiving awards including a BEM, MBE etc
A poor map of Mount Suphan in Turkey will put up a better one when I get home.

A poor map of Mount Suphan in Turkey will put up a better one when I get home.

What a Call – out that was and next year there was a similar epic again in Turkey. I am planning a trip to Mt Suphan next year 2014 to visit the site and the graves, anyone fancy an expedition to Turkey get in touch! It is a big hill.
2015 Dec update: The area is a bit dangerous so I doubt I will be able to visit this area until the world becomes a safer place a sad outcome. 
The intention of these articles is to highlight the incredible work done by RAF Mountain Rescue troops over the years.

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 and loves the wild places.
This entry was posted in Aircraft incidents, Books, Mountain rescue, Mountaineering, Recomended books and Guides, Views Mountaineering. Bookmark the permalink.

38 Responses to Turkish Aircraft Crash Mt Suphan 1959 – Limited gear and a map with a scale of 18 miles to the inch

  1. My wife’s aunt worked as a scientist at Woomera around that time! We’ll be taking a trip out there next year in the 4-wheel drive vehicle…!


  2. roger reid says:

    I am trying to contact George Murphy, Gordon Hercod and Dereck Bottomer – you will recognize their roles in this amazing story. Thank you for the posting, and especially for the intriguing essay.


  3. Tim Mepham says:

    Hello Wally,
    Your account of the 1959 Turkish Airlines crash at Mt Suphan and attempted rescue was a Gripper!

    Avro Tudor — Star of the show
    As a boy I lived near Ringway (now Manchester) Airport. I was taken there to attend an Air Show. Being 1945 this was the first show since ceasing hostilities. There was an outstanding demonstration of fairly low-level parachuting by troops from camouflaged DC-3s still exhibiting their sets of triple wing stripes fresh from The Invasion.
    The post war British Aircraft industry was repesented by an Avro Tudor. To a young lad I was more than impressed as I had never been so close to such a large and magnificent machine. We were able to walk around it and were taken in by its polished Aluminum finish. After some time of kicking tires a tractor was used to back it into a Hanger. When inside the Hangar doors were closed at a seemingly imperceptably slow speed until fully shut hiding the plane from view. Quite a sight!

    One thing that puzzled me at the show was a huge mass of bicycles each was standing up and the stack was about 50ft or 60ft square. It must have taken ages to untangle each one and that so many had attended by bike.

    Thought this might have tied in with your story involving The Tudor.
    Best wishes to you Wally and to your continued endeavours.
    Tim Mepham (friend of Dick Dorling)


  4. ABB RILEY says:


    Liked by 1 person

  5. heavywhalley says:

    You seem to have a bit of a problem I was writing about these incidents as a history of RAF MRT I was hoping to visit the crash site next year.I never stated that I was at his incident and did not join MRT UNTIL 1972. I was never even in the RAF when this incident happened! It was meant to be a look at a huge incident in our history and nowadays only a few people knew had what happened! I was at many aircraft crashed in my career many of the biggets in my 37 years carreer and was a Team Leader at RAF Kinloss and RAF Leuchars. I think you have got a bit mixed up or not read the articles and all I wanted to do was highlight what agreat job you all did and share our history?
    Unfortunately I doubt I will be able to visit the site due to the political and the wars nearby! Never ever was it the intention to say I was there! Just highlight what a wild call – out that would have been and how impressed I am by men like you!

    My apologises if I have upset you that was not the intention! I await your reply!



  6. roger reid says:

    Abb; I think there might be a little misunderstanding somehow; Mr “Heavyhalley” never associated himself personally with that effort. He is – fortunately for many folk – the devoted researcher/compiler/font of group history and wisdom (apart from all his other fine works to protect, develop and honor the MR).
    I saw George two months ago; and am now over-due to write my Christmas letter to him. I will pass on your best wishes as emanating from his being “mentioned in dispatches”.
    I’ve not heard from Gordon for a wee while. Gordon of the “reset the fuse; ran back to cover; heard and saw The Loud Bang; and suddenly realized that he had left his camera on the plane’s wing; said camera having ALL the records”. Cheers

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Chris Bishop says:

    My name is Chris Bishop the eldest son of Derek Bishop, who sadly passed away on the 7th November 2014 after 7 years with Alzheimer’s, Dementia (Lewy Body & Vascular) and Parkinson’s. I know Dad was apart of the Mt. Suphan mission and I am proud to say that I still have his RAF jumper that I used when mountaineering and climbing as a teenager. I can still remember using his heavy cotton jerkin which was waterproof to a point!

    I am participating in this years Devizes to Westminster International Canoe race – DW, starting on Easter Saturday, in aid of Alzheimer’s Research UK and in memory of Dad. Who taught me everything I know about life outdoors, angling, shooting and of course mountaineering and climbing.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. roger reid says:

    Mr “HeavyWhalley”, sir… F.Y.I, I am in the process of setting up a visit to the Avro Tudor site, in the 1 – 7th September 2016 window; under the guidance of a local professional mountain guide. Hopeful of it eventuating, and that I bring back some photos to share.

    I expect that you seen this?


    • heavywhalley says:

      I would have love to come as was planning to go before I was ill a few years ago let me know how it goes?


      • roger reid says:

        I am in contact with a local professional mountain guide, for 1 -7 September, before she goes to Everest on 8th Septemberr. I am not sure if you are wondering about joining us. You’d be most welcome; if we can make it happen. All orgainsed tours etc are “cancelled for the duration”.. It is a bit lively out there due to Kurdistan issues; but the guide feels OK at the moment. If this a possibility for you, drop me a line at rogerreid3@yahoo.com , so that I don’t clutter up your site. (I will go onto The Lycian Way afterwards.)


      • heavywhalley says:

        I am away over that period and the area is a bit to hot just now. I may re look at it next year I am fit now and hope the world settles down! Hope you manage to go please keep me updated.

        Kind regards Heavy


      • roger reid says:

        Certainly. Glad to read that you are fully back on form. “Gluck auf! Gluck abs!”
        Kind regards, Roger


  9. Christine McCombe says:

    Wow, Roger I have just read all these articles by going into Dave Atkinson’s last email re: the Anabasis. I can only commend you on your knowledge of all these events All I can say is incredible. Thank you Roger.


  10. Mujdat Kaya says:

    Is the headline correct or it was supposed to be ‘British aircraft crash’ ?


  11. Turkish Aviation says:

    The attached a video link of an expedition up to the peak of Mount Suphan, Turkey, by some climbers in 2014. At 6 minutes and 10 secs they come across wreckage of the Avro Tudor. Not to sure if this is the impact site as I’m sure we all all aware that wreckage can move with the shifting movement of the snow.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Katie tutt says:

    I have just read this in the company of my father Ronald Ellis.
    He took part in this mission and was part of the second team mentioned that met up with the first team. He was the team doctor.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Jonny D says:

    This is fascinating. My grandfather was a pilot on this flight and sadly passed away. My uncle did a bit of research on the crash. The crash has always hung over our family and i know it left a lot of questions unanswered, especially for my grandmother.

    I would love to get any further info if possible.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jonny if you can get a copy of Two Star Red by Gwen MOFFAT it has lots of information or Whensoever by Frank Card.
      Hope this helps.


      • Turkish Aviation says:

        I obtained both these books on the internet auction site eBay. No doubt you may find them on Amazon also. Both books are about the RAF rescue teams and various operations (site rescues) through time. Two red star (out of print) seems somewhat sought after and is quite costly. If you cannot obtain any of these copies let me know and I’ll try and provide you what information I can from the books.


  14. Barry Mayner (RAF ret’d Navigator) says:

    In 1964 while on 29 Sqn Javelins at RAF Nicosia, I was invited as supernumerary aircrew to join a 70 Sqn. Hastings trip to take the Nicosia MRT to Van. The MRT were to visit the Tudor Crash site.
    Is there anyone on this site who was on that visit.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. roger reid says:

    I find it awesome that there is so much recent interest in this event, and that there are relatives who “ask questions and seek answers”. And that Heavywhalley runs this incredible site.

    Firstly let me thank the servicemen on the plane and MR with other associates for their service. It was a remarkable epic that changed The Government’s reaction to MR and its needs.
    Let me clarify… I have not been in the RAF or the MR. I met George Murphy in 1962 and he became my mountaineering mentor and close friend. I have “had a thing” about the Mt Suphan epics (there was a USA Mercator epic nine months later) and have tried to get info over the years. I sought to achieve my Bucket List of climbing Mt Suphan in 2015, but found myself “over the hill” rather than “on the hill”. Still….

    For those of you who have had difficulty in getting info, well I assure you that it is far, far worse for those trying to find out about the Mercator disaster. I understand that there is a 70-year State Secrecy block on The Avro Tudor disaster, so presumably facts will be available in 2029.

    Certainly the decision to put all the gear on that Avro Tudor was a cockup of the highest order. Reportedly the unflappable McMillan and his Cabinet were far more than flappable and their horror turned their bowels into water. McMillan apparently took personal lead on the aftermath.

    Unanswered Questions? None were listed above but they likely include:

    1. “Was it pilot error?”
    That tends to be an “official” comment, but there is a strong feeling that it was not. There has been comment that The Russians knew in advance what was on that cargo plane. Apparently there were fears that The Russians had got to the crash site first. There is a persistent belief that The Russians were jamming navigational beacons and sending false beams to direct “suspicious planes” into Mt Suphan. The same debate occurs in the USA. The Mercator spy planes were deeply disturbing to The Russians, Chinese and North Koreans as the USA planes patrolled their borders. A number of these 18 top-secret P4M-IQ “World Watchers” were shot down, and it was such a high-risk venture that they were replaced by the “much safer” U2 spy plane, leading to the 1960 Gary Powers incident a few months later. The Mercator was so top-secret that often even now the loss of BUNO on Mt Suphan is not mentioned in their list of disasters. So whilst the facts are buried currently, it seems pretty certain that it was not “pilot error”.

    2. “What was on the plane?”
    It was known that “‘the cargo included Britain’s eight top secret rockets on route for testing at Woomera”. Was it the Avro’s prototype Blue Steel ballistic missile?
    “There was one item that was a strange object that looked like an engine and was still intact after three large explosions.” What was that? And what happened to it?
    There has been querying whether it included “an atom bomb”; and as to its possible radioactivity. George was upset and dismayed to find a few years ago that personal effects were not returned to relatives of the deceased. He had ensured everyone had gone to great lengths to retrieve the personal effects. Where they radioactive? The relatives of the Mercator airmen suffered the same.
    It is said in Turkey that the impoverished villagers pillaged the Tudor wreck for windscreens etc for their homes, and that cancer levels are unusually high “due to the radioactivity”. This has been contested that the high cancer level is from other causes.

    The interest is very timely; because George Murphy’s Memoirs “A long way from Bidder Street” are just being published. There is a eight-page chapter on the Avro Tudor call-out plus Gordon Hercod’s recollections and appendices. I suggest that this is likely to be the definitive comment, until 2029. Also there are a couple of pages on the Mercator call-out, and some of George’s memoirs about his time in the MR. I am in touch with him and his family as to how copies of the book might be made available to MR folk and relatives of the deceased, and I will get back to you when I hear from them.

    David, could you please contact me at rogerreid3@yahoo.com? George has the very highest regard for MR and I know he would like you to have a copy.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.