I am off today to accompany Geoff a relative of one of the crew of the Lancaster who died on a crash on the mountain in 1951. His relative was the navigator Flying Officer R Strong. It is an early start as I have a 2 hour drive to the West Coast where I will meet Geoff and Anne and Mark two pals who are coming with us. Geoff has driven from the far South and spent time visiting one of the team now in his late 70’s who was actually on the call – out in 1951. Joss Gosling who as a young National Serviceman had the difficult task of recovering all the casualties. This was a life changing event for the RAF Mountain Rescue Team and Joss in a long incident that changed RAF Mountain Rescue for ever. Geoff has visited the crash site before and is keen to come again. This will be his first visit for 2 years as I have not been able to take him up to the crash site it can be a long 3 hour walk due to my health. Now I am recovering it is that time again, despite the weather and the midges.
The Lancaster crashed near the summit ridge and now most of it now lies in the huge Corrie and is strewn about the cliffs, a propeller is jammed in the cliff and is known locally as Fuselage Gully. These Buttress are known as the Triple Buttress was also the scene of an aviation tragedy and it is one of the most famous features of Beinn Eighe is the massive Corrie Mhic Fearchair, often simply known as the “Triple Buttress Corrie” after the three large rock features which dominate the view from the north. There are many rock climbs on these huge buttresses and hill walkers can access the tops of the buttresses from the head of the corrie.
This is where a post-war converted Lancaster, now operating in a maritime reconnaissance role by 120 Squadron, had taken off from RAF Kinloss just after 18.00 hours on the evening of 13 March 1951 for a NAVEX in the vicinity of Rockall and the Faroe Isles. The aircraft was due back at RAF Kinloss around 02.25 hours the following morning. However, while on the return journey, the aircraft experienced atrocious and freezing weather conditions, together with a strong N’Easterly wind. Some time after transmitting its last radio message, the Lancaster crashed just 4.6m (15 feet) below the summit of Beinn Eighe, and at the top of the almost inaccessible Far West Gully (‘Fuselage Gully’), west of Triple Buttress and above Loch Coire Mhic Fhearchair. Unaware of the crash location, the search teams could still find no trace of the missing aircraft after two days. However, at the time of the accident, a boy in Torridon had witnessed a red glow over Beinn Eighe. Believing this to be coming from one of the fishing boats on the loch, he thought nothing of it. However, two days later, on hearing about the missing aircraft, he remembered what he had seen and reported it. RAF Kinloss were notified of the boy’s report together with the reports of several other witnesses who also had seen the red flash over Beinn Eighe. As a result of these reports, the RAF redirected their search efforts to the extensive ridge which included Beinn Eighe. On 16 March, an Airspeed Oxford aircraft located the crashed Lancaster on the mountain and reported its position back to the ground search teams. The rescue teams arrived at the base of the mountain on 17 March and began their attempted recovery from 18 March onward. However, because of the very difficult terrain and atrocious winter weather conditions, the teams could not reach the Lancaster, even after several attempts. I have written at length about the crash site and the story of this sad event and you will find the story about the crash.
The crew of the Lancaster that crashed on Beinn Eighe
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.
Young men lost in their prime ” Lest We Forget”