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
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.