Beinn Eighe is a mountaineer’s mountain, in summer a huge hill of over 7 tops and in winter one of Alpine grandeur. Many chase the Munros there are two of theses but this is not a mountain to be rushed it is the haunt of the eagle , deer and other wild life and those who venture into its wildest Corries will see the grandest of Scotland’s secrets. Climb on here and you will be in another world and in winter an unbelievable place to be.
“Beinn Eighe is a vast mountain, its crests and summits almost entirely made of quartzite. The mountain boasts 7 peaks, two of which are afforded Munro status. When viewed from the Glen Torridon, Beinn Eighe south facing slopes appear as a uniformed wall of scree, however the northern side of this mountain is complex with corries pushing out on a grand scale. The most dramatic feature is Coire Mhic Fhearchair – a spectacular amphitheatre with the famed Triple Buttress”
Steve Fallon Website http://www.stevenfallon.co.uk/eighe.html
One of these Corries is the huge “Cathedral like” an awe inspiring place Coire Mhic Fherchair and the Triple Buttress and in one of it gully’s lies the wreckage of an RAF aircraft this is some of the story. Many now climb in this place in winter where so many wild and wonderful climbs are guarded by a 3 hour walk in. How many know the tale of the wreckage that lies in the Corrie and on the cliff?
On the 13th March 1951 at 1804hrs, Lancaster TX264 call sign ‘D’ Dog of 120 Squadron, converted for reconnaissance purposes, took off from RAF Kinloss, a ‘fog free’ climate of the Moray Coast between Lossiemouth and Nairn. The pilot was Flt Lt Harry Reid DFC, 24 years of age, a total crew of eight with a Second Pilot, Navigator, Flight Engineer and four signallers. It was a ‘Navigational Exercise’ via Cape Wrath, the very name a ‘mingled feeling of anger and disdain’ this being the extreme north-west point of the Scottish mainland and named after the Viking word ’hvraf’ meaning a turning point where the Vikings turned south to the Hebrides in the ninth century. The cape is isolated and its heathland untamed. Around midnight the aircrew flew over the Lighthouse.The last position, sent by radio was at 0127hrs 60 miles north of the Cape, this was the very last message from the aircraft.
At 0200hrs a boy living in Torridon, on the east end of Upper Loch Torridon, looking through his bedroom window saw a red flash in the distance, but didn’t think any more about it until he saw the headlines in a Newspaper, ‘Missing Plane Sought’ and this was two days after the aircraft went missing. He mentioned it to the local Postmaster who immediately contacted RAF Kinloss. Similar reports had been received. An Airspeed Oxford was sent to search which concentrated on Beinn Eighe. The wreck of the Lancaster was sighted on the 16th March.
On the 17th March the Kinloss RAF Rescue Team arrived in the area and on the 18th approached Beinn Eighe from the North and into Coire Mhic Fhearchair from Loch Maree. Wreckage from the Lancaster was found after arriving at the foot of the Triple Buttresses and lying in the ‘corrie’.
One of the RAF Kinloss team members who was on the crash and has a unique account of what happened is Joss Gosling who lives in Fort William. He was only a young lad at the time in March 1951 and the crash affected him greatly. Joss was a competent mountaineer as he had climbed previously before his National Service. He had some unique photos and a diary of events of what happened. He explains how awesome it was to see the corrie for the first time and how he felt during the long days of searching and recovery. His description of the great Corrie being like a “Cathedral” always sticks in my mind and when the mist swirls in these great cliffs you can feel his words of that eventful time. He explained that the “ugly step” on the ridge caused problems as the kit and training they had been very poor but they did their best, he is a wonderful man and a great example to us all. Joss was at the crash site on the 50th anniversary in 2001 and speaks with great authority on this tragedy. The RAF Kinloss team put a small memorial on the propeller below the gully in 2001 in memory of those who died in this crash, “lest we forget”
Joss was one of the Mountain Rescue Team who was in the RAF Kinloss Mountain Rescue team in 1951 who was on the famous call – out for the Lancaster that hit the great Triple Buttress of Beinn Eighe killing all the 8 of a crew. I have been very privileged to meet and interview some incredible people in my time but he is specail. Joss and his pal Willie Stuart have that incredible humility that is lacking by many in today’s society and what a joy it was to hear another aspect of this story. Joss is 84 years young and along with Willie Stuart is one of the few survivors of the Rescue team in these days. What a story they have to tell, much was written about this crash at the time and huge changes in Rescue Training and equipment followed the enquiry after this crash. The RAF team was made up of National Servicemen and few had mountaineering equipment or the knowledge of its use. Scotland had a very small mountaineering community and information about climbing and mountaineering is nothing like these days of Blogs, internet and up to date weather and climbing conditions. Only a few and the very experienced ventured into the far North West.
The photo below shows RAF Kinloss Mountain Rescue Team in 1951 – dressed in the kit of that time at the crash site below the Triple buttress of Beinn Eighe. Incredible people mostly National Service men who did a hard job with limited knowledge and the kit of that era. The recovery of all the fatalities took several months to complete. Look at the kit they are wearing. Photo Joss Gosling collection.
The Kinloss Team had just returned from the recovery of a climber in the far Corries of Ben A Bhuird in the Cairngorms where they had a hard call – out in 11 March 1951. The carry off was long and hard and the drive back on the roads that were single track an adventure. The weather was very poor with tons of snow. Joss said it was a hard callout and the snow was feet deep it had been a hard winter in 1951. It was a tired team that arrived back at RAF Kinloss on the 14 March 1951 to find that one of its planes was missing a Lancaster with 9 crew on board. It was last heard of by radio heading for home from a navigational exercise off the Faroes and Rockall .
In the evening of the 13th of March 1951 this Lancaster set out from RAF Kinloss for a training flight a Navigational Exercise. The aircraft was on the final leg of a night-time navigation exercise between the Faroes and Rockall and was heading home when it collided with the mountain, Beinn Eighe, at around 02.00hrs on the 14th of March. It was only thirty minutes from landing back at base.
The nav-ex had been flown in horrendous weather conditions, when they took off from Kinloss seven hours prior to the crash, a deep low pressure was developing further south, this effect caused a strong north-easterly airflow north of this depression which the crew would have been battling with prior to the crash and which almost certainly caused them to have flown too far south of their intended course.
The last radio message picked up reported the aircraft to be “sixty miles north of Cape Wrath”. Nothing more was heard. The aircraft was later found to have crashed and had struck just fifteen feet from the summit of that part of the mountain range and at the top of a very inaccessible gully known at Far West Gully at the western side of Triple Buttress, above Loch Coire Mhic Fhearchair in the Beinn Eighe group.
The crew would have been flying in pitch darkness, poor visibility and freezing conditions, it was thought the crew presumed they were descending over the relatively flat area of Caithness towards their let-down over the Moray Firth. They actually crashed over the Torridon Mountains, which are above 3000 feet. All eight airmen were almost certainly killed in the impact with the solid rock.
For 3 days nothing was heard or seen of the aircraft and then a local boy from Torridon thought he had seen a flash on the mountain of Beinn Eighe the night the Lancaster went missing. This was eventually passed to the Police and RAF Kinloss informed. Kinloss sent an Oxford aircraft up and located the crash near the summit Of Beinn Eighe. This was now three days after the crash occurred and arrived at Kinlochewe after an epic journey in bad roads and weather. Myself and Joss have known each other for many years and one of the last things we did was a presentation on the Crash to a huge gathering of the RAF Mountain Rescue Re – Union at Newtonmore in 2012. One of the first things Joss said as we prepared for our chat was that a lot of the team knew the crew as many worked on the Lancaster’s at RAF Kinloss and were so upset at not being able to go straight away and look . No one had a clue where the aircraft might be. It was to be a very personal call – out for many of the team.
When I asked Joss about the team knowledge of the area he was very definite that no one had been there before, the maps were poor (though they thought there were great at the time)and they took the local Policeman’s advice on the way into Beinn Eighe. This involved a long walk in via Bridge of Grudie where there is no path for the final few miles round the ridge of Ruadh Stac Mor a long way in! This seems strange to us with our knowledge of the hill and the information now available. Joss remembers it well and his first view of the huge Triple buttress will live with him forever. Joss says “it was like entering a Cathedral” he still gets very emotional when he sees the photo below. When he spoke to me it was just like being there at the time
”Past the waterfall nearly there.
Then “Cathedral like” cliffs tower above the Loch”
Joss was the only one who took his camera with him and took photos throughout the incident which are incredible value for us all and show us what conditions were like in 1951.
The photo above is an incredible photo taken by a young man in his early 20’s. He was to spend many days in this corrie on a grim task of recovery of 8 aircrew from his home station at RAF Kinloss. photo Joss Gosling collection.
When they reached the bottom of the Corrie they located lots of wreckage but no bodies and tried to climb up to the summit and the main crash site but with no success. Conditions, equipment and experience were against them.
They returned to Kinlochewe where they camped in the Hotel car park – There was no mountain Rescue teams about in Scotland at this time, limited local knowledge, life was going to be hard for the recovery of the crew and to gain access to this huge mountain and the main crash site 15 metres from the summit ridge. One can only imagine the length of the hill days Joss reckons 12 – 14 hours at a time.
After a difficult time on the mountain and reaching the Corrie on Beinn Eighe sevearl times the RAF Kinloss Team returned to Kinloss. The team must have felt very upset that they had failed to reach the main wreckage just below the summit. Joss said it was very difficult going back to Kinloss without finding the crew. Many of the team knew the aircrew and he still feels this part of the tragedy. The problem was the “Ugly step” on the Sail Mor Ridge. The western end of the ridge sees an obstacle called the ‘Ugly step’. This is a rock step on the western end of the plateau like summit, Coinneach Mhor (976m). The rock step drops down to the ridge leading to Sail Mhor. On the 30 March – 5 April. The wreckage was reached and 4 bodies recovered. To achieve this the team reached the summit by the “Ugly step” a steep step on the ridge, which is about grade 1/11 and in the conditions and the equipment available was a difficult obstacle. Most of the wreckage was here as the main impact point was 15 metres from the summit. Joss explained that this was pretty difficult especially with the kit and experience they had at the time. During the period before this the wreckage was reached by Mike Banks (a world-class mountaineer) and a serving Royal Marine Officer and a friend, who told the Police that all they had found one of the crew dead near the ridge. He also advised all non mountaineers to keep away as the weather was wild, he was blown over several times. Mike wrote his account in his book Commando climber which he criticised the RAF, their leadership and the Mountain Rescue Team. Joss was still upset by the comments as he and the team were trying their hardest in appalling conditions. With hindsight much what Mike Banks said was true and later on many of his points were used to modernise the RAF Mountain Rescue Service. It must be recognised that these were all unpaid volunteers few were mountaineers mostly National Servicemen who were about for 18 months at the most 2 Scottish winters? The climb even today is an interesting way up the mountain needing crampons and axes in winter conditions. The photo below shows the step and we are using a rope as I had broken a crampon at the time of this photo.
The local Moray Mountaineering Club also offered assistance at the time but the RAF and the Police agreed that conditions were too serious to accept any help. The RAF team were under pressure and the papers were full of stories. Joss remembers this time well but says that the team all had ice axes but the very minimal kit, equipment and experience.
Commando Climber by John Banks an interesting book which has a piece on the Beinn Eighe Tragedy. It is a brutal account of the team and their attempts but Joss says many of the comments were incorrect and they did their best at the time.
The pressure was on Joss and the team and it must have been a harrowing task recovering the casualties during this period. Joss was a caver and had a bit of mountaineering experience and though he will not say it he was a key man on the recovery. He still feels that though the team was heavily criticised they had a harrowing job which many forget. He still talks about the recovery with huge clarity.
Have a thought about the team on this epic and look at the equipment the team were using on Beinn Eighe in 1951. Photo Joss Gosling collection.
When Joss spoke of this time he is still upset with the memories all these years on. These were not unknown climbers they were recovering from the snow. They were fellow members of the RAF many whom team member’s knew personally. Some of the casualties were taken down into Coire Dubh Mor a very steep descent, in winter which Joss seems to think was fairly simple! He said gravity did its bit to help with the descent, which was done using sisal ropes. There was not enough time to get the bodies of the hill on their own and local keepers and gillies helped with ponies when they reached glen. Joss said this was a great help to the RAF lads who were exhausted after a busy few days. This was the start of locals helping officially with rescues and led to the formation of the Torridon and Kinlochewe Mountain Rescue Team. Local knowledge and experience is the foundation of a strong rescue team. This tragedy a least had big part in the formation of this Mountain Rescue Team.
It shows the “Ugly step” on the Sail Mor Ridge.The western end of the ridge sees an obstacle called the ‘ugly step’. This is a rock step on the western end of the plateau like summit, Coinneach Mhor (976m). The rock step drops down to the ridge leading to Sail Mhor. Can you spot the climber? Photo Joss Gosling collection on the recovery.
The team had recovered 4 fatalities but there was so much snow that it was too difficult to find the rest of the crew. The team returned to RAF Kinloss hoping to await a big thaw! It took several attempts to locate the final casualties even in summer the mountain held its secrets until the snow melted. It must have been a gruesome task for all. It was not till months later that the final casualty was recovered and the snow gave up its secrets.
After the recovery and enquiry huge changes were made in training and equipment for RAF Mountain Rescue many which became the basis for Mountain Rescue in the UK and overseas. Teams were properly equipped and training like the Annual winter course was an annual event where basic skills were taught. Some prolific mountaineers were sought from within the military and Mountain Rescue Leaders were trained specifically for the job. Huge changes occurred in RAF Mountain Rescue.
On the 28th August 1985, a group of Officer Cadets led by Sergeant Jim Morning and Sgt Tom Jones were airlifted on to the summit of Beinn Eighe by a Sea King Helicopter from 202 Squadron.
One of ‘D’ Dog’s propellers was recovered and put into a lifting net and taken by the helicopter to the road, and then to RAF Kinloss. The twisted three-blade propeller used to stand outside the Mountain Rescue Section building as a permanent memorial to ‘D’ Dog’s crew. The gully where the aircraft crashed is called by mountaineers Fuselage Gully and one of the propellers has to be climbed over and is used by climbers as a belay in winter.
Flt Lt H S Reid
|SECOND PILOT||Sgt R Clucas|
|NAVIGATOR||Fg Off R Strong|
|SIGNALLER||Flt Lt P Tennison|
|FLIGHT ENGINEER||Flt Sgt G Farquhar|
|SIGNALLERS||Flt Sgt J Naismith|
|Sgt W D Beck|
|Sgt J W Bell|
I was very privileged to have my last weekend before I retired from the RAF in the Torridon area as a member of the RAF Kinloss MRT in early winter of 2007 This area due to its history is unique and I have spent many days enjoying these peaks. The “Torridon Trilogy” Beinn Eighe, Liathach and Beinn Alligin became test pieces for team training first in summer then in winter conditions. Many of the classic climbs in summer and winter were climbed by team members and a few epic call – outs over the years. These hills have huge corries and alpine ridges where rescues have occurred mostly not reported by the National Press. The local Torridon Team and the RAF MR have assisted climbers and walkers over the years. I have climbed Fuselage gully on many occasions with team members during my 37 years with the Mountain Rescue Service. In early Dec 2007 with two of the young, Kinloss Team members we had a special day.
This was my last day with the RAF before I retired. It is a fairly simple climb by modern standards but I broke a crampon at the beginning and it made the day very interesting as we were being chased by a big storm as we descended. One crampon on the steep descent was thought-provoking and I can only think of how the team in 1951 with their simple kit coped. I was brought up to respect the history of this majestic area and its people; there was no finer place to spend my last weekend than in this special place. On my retirement I spend a two great years with the Torridon MRT as a team member. Finally retired from Mountain Rescue it is a great privilege to return to and enjoy the beauty of this mountain, its ridges, corries and wild life.
Recently in 2009 two well – known climbers were avalanched whilst descending from Fuselage gully and the wreckage stopped them being seriously injured as one of the climbers hit the propeller on his way down the gully. It made big news in the Press, maybe the propeller saved their lives?!
In 2011 on the 60 th Anniversary of the Crash on the exact date a group of serving RAF MRT & Torridon MRT went up to crash site. The wild weather according to Joss Gosling who was on the actual search for the aircraft was very similar. We had thigh deep snow and the journey into the corrie took over 3 hours. BBC Radio Scotland accompanied us on the day and did a programme on the incident. We had a moving ceremony at the crash site, where we left a small wreath. The Stornoway Coastguard helicopter flew over the site as the weather came in making it a very moving day. Joss now in his 80’s was interviewed by the BBC Scotland at the Hotel where the team had camped 60 years before. The RAF Mountain Rescue Winter Course came to the Anniversary and all climbed the mountain by various routes that day a great event and Joss was like me a proud man.
Unseen from the road, the majestic cliffs are hidden.
The long walk, views expanding as we climb.
Liathach brooding in the mist, is watching?
As usual we meet a family of deer
They have been there for many years
What have they seen?
Great cliffs sculptured by time and nature.
Wreckage, glinting in the sun.
This is a wonderful poignant place.
Only too those who look and see.
How mighty is this corrie?
This Torridon giant Beinn Eighe.
Recently in 2013/2014 a relative of the incident Geoff Strong a nephew of Fg Off Robert Strong who was killed asked to visit the crash site. He lives down South and has twice made the pilgrimage with myself and friends to the great Corrie. He is planning another trip this year 2016 and myself and hopefully a couple of the Torridon Team will attend.
The RAF Kinloss Team is now disbanded lost in the Defence cuts but the RAF Lossiemouth Mountain Rescue Team is still in action and I know were on Beinn Eighe recently and are moving the old propeller at RAF Kinloss to its new base at Lossiemouth . I would appreciate a photo if anyone can help. 16/3/2016 The Team have now moved the old propeller to RAF Lossiemouth a great job by the Team Leader Shane and the Team, thank you all.
Beinn Eighe has a huge place in RAF Mountain Rescue and local Torridon history. This place even after all these years after the 1951 crash mean so much to many.
Just look in Joss eyes who was there when he tells his story.
“Lest We Forget”
Fl/Lt Harry Smith Reid DFC (29), Pilot, RAF.Buried Groves Cemetery Aberdeen
Sgt Ralph Clucas (23), Co-Pilot, RAF. Buried at Kinloss Abbey.
Flt Lt Strong (27), Navigator, RAF. Buried Bramwood End Cemetery, Birmingham.
Sgt Peter Tennison (26), Air Signals, RAF. Buried at Kinloss Abbey.
Sgt James Naismith (28), Air Signals, RAF. Buried at Kinloss Abbey.
Sgt Wilfred D Beck (19), Air Signals, RAF. Buried at Kinloss Abbey.
Sgt James W Bell (25), Air Signals, RAF. Buried at Kinloss Abbey.
Sgt George Farquhar (29), Flight Engineer, RAF. Buried Buckie Cemetery, Banffshire. Born 3/6/1921.
Many thanks to all for the assistance The RAF Lossiemouth MRT and the Torridon and Kinlochewe Team for their help and advice and photos especially Joss Gosling and Willie who are an inspiration to us all. God bless you all.
We follow in the footsteps of giants!
Heavy Whalley March 2106
I have a grand lecture on the story and myself and Joss presented it to the RAF Mountain Rescue Re Union in 2012 at Newtonmore.