After a hard day on the hill the Viscount aircraft and crew had been located and due to the wild weather they were left in situ until next day.
Day 2 – Weather Sunday 21 Jan 1973 – weather fresh snow and cloud down to 2000 feet a steady wind and wind – chill.
It was a long night in the Village Hall with everyone busy planning next day’s recovery of the crew. As a very inexperienced young troop I was told I was on the body recovery next day, I hardly slept. RAF Kinloss and RAF Leuchars divided each team up into recovery and search parties. It was along haul up the hill with carrying ropes and Stretchers in deep snow to a height of 2800 feet. I was in a long line that left from Ben More Farm in the morning; it was heavy going with big sacks. The weather was misty above 200 feet and still very cold. The rest of the teams and 23 regiment SAS carried out a search for aircraft wreckage further up the very steep West Face of Ben More. They searched at 15 yard intervals up and down the face not easy in the conditions.This was fairly serious ground to search and the teams worked hard. The Black box Flight recorder was located by them about 150 yards north of the summit by the SAS. A rough map was drawn after the search, which I still have a copy.
When we located the casualties we had first to relocate them in the heavy snow that had fallen overnight and I remember helping digging them out, not easy for a young lad. In these days it was the young lads who were used to handle and dig out the casualties a hard and difficult job I remember it well. It was a steep learning curb but these were real people, husbands, fathers, sons and we had difficult job to do. It was very hard work digging and removing them from the deep snow we put them each on the Stretchers and they were taken off down the hill by us.
In the deep snow but we used the stretcher skids to good effect to help move the stretcher down the hill and a couple of ropes to ensure they moved swiftly but safely. It was all a steep learning curb for me and my mate Tom MacDonald and the younger member’s of the teams. We were soon down in the Glen and the BEA helicopter lifted them out. It was then back to the Village Hall, for some food no showers available kit now completely soaked and we were running out of dry gear. I can still remember how strange I felt but positive that I had done my best.
Day 3 Monday 22 Jan 1973
Weather – Freezing level 2000 feet, cloud base 2800 rising later Wind strong westerly decreasing later.
The next day after a briefing it was back up the hill to the main wreckage and digging around the cockpit area and other wreckage. Various sweep searches were carried out and parties were lifted in three’s by the BEA helicopter. A Joint pair of parties from Kinloss and Leuchars climbed all the Gullies on the SE Face of Ben More locating no wreckage. More searching was carried out on the NE Ridge and SE Face of ben More to the summit. On the summit assistance was given to the Ministry Air Investigation Officer sweep searching in heavy snow. The lowest wreckage was located a fuel tank and the rest was thrown Westward across the summit ridge and down the West Face. It was another long day and I was glad to be off the hill. The next day we traveled back to RAF Kinloss and I received a “bollocking” from my Boss in my workplace for being away so long, that upset me deeply. I was very lucky as George Bruce my Team Leader went and saw him and told him in a “few words” what we had experienced but I was a marked man after that by my Boss, such is life.
I had learned so much from this sad incident it was to teach me in future years as a RAF MR Team Leader. George Bruce, John Hinde and Taff Tunnah who are now sadly gone discussed this call – out with me a many years ago and the lessons learned. They were real characters, different people entirely but led strong teams and knew what they were doing. One of the key points from this tragedy was getting the correct information as members of the public respond to the media who were asking for help or sightings of the aircraft. To get the right information to the searchers is very hard to do and I am sure that the local shepherd on the hill had notified the Police of seeing/ hearing something on Ben More at the time the aircraft went missing. The crew unfortunately died instantly but this information amongst many pieces on the day from all over the area. It is very hard to sort out the correct witness information. George, Taff and John Hinde taught me so much over the years especially about missing aircraft searches and recovery of crew and information about the crash. I dedicate this article to them and the crew of the Viscount Aircraft that sadly lost their lives.
In the summer of 1973 when the snow had gone a few of the RAF Kinloss Team went up to the crash site and found a few personal bits and pieces of the crews belongings. They were returned to the family.
2005 January 19 – David Whittick, engineer Bob Elrick and Wally‘s son Mike organised a Memorial service for all the crew of the Viscount, and held, a service at, Crianlarich Church on January 19th 2005 to dedicate an inscribed cairn, which has been installed in the churchyard in memory of the crew. The service was attended by more than seventy ex-colleagues and family members, who subsequently retired to the local village hall to exchange some memories and to enjoy some Scottish hospitality .There is a memorial to the crew in the churchyard at Crainlarich which I went in the anniversary of the crash.. Meeting the family and locals friends who lost their lives is a humbling experience for all and how they appreciate what all the teams did to try to find their loved ones. All these years later it still has a huge effect on many.
It is worth noting that in another very hard winter of 1987 I was heavily involved in a RAF Wessex helicopter crash on Ben More. Sadly a good friend Harry the Team Leader of Killin Mountain Rescue Team was killed and two good friends very badly injured. After the rescue as a Qualified Team Leader I led the Air Investigation Branch( AIB) for a week on the search on the Steep NE face of the mountain. This was a difficult task as it was full winter conditions and a big AIB Team to look after on winter climbing terrain. We were on the mountain for 5 days with the team. None of the AIB were mountaineers and we had a huge task looking after them safely and helping locate the first impact point on a steep winter cliff. It is never easy as these teams of experts are just wanting to get on with their job but in a hostile environment this can be not easy to try to keep them safe to do their job! The RAF teams have many aircraft engineers and their aircraft knowledge is invaluable locating and identifying wreckage for the ongoing inquiry. This was a where many lessons from the past from my early days in 1973 were well used on this tragic accident in the mountains. Many forget that this was the primary task of the RAF MRT the search and recovery of missing aircraft in remote and mountainous regions. Every few years an aircraft goes missing and the lessons of the past are worth remembering, you can learn much from past incidents and even with today’s technology it still needs boots on the ground in bad weather and the correct skills both of an on the hill to get the job done. It is always worth remembering this.
Heavy Whalley is available for lectures on Search Planning/Mountain Rescue, Mountaineering, etc see the website. You will not be disappointed!