In 1982 on a wild December night I was at RAF Kinloss with the Mountain Rescue and what happend that night was one of the hardest I have ever been involved in 40 years of Mountain Rescue! I have written about it many times on my blog!At about 8 pm on the night of 7 December 1982 after descending to about 1000ft over Loch Scavaig, an F-111F aircraft struck the southern face of the 1620 foot peak Sgurr na Stri, Strathaird*. The unarmed aircraft, serial number 70-2377, was on a regular training mission from RAF Lakenheath in Suffolk.
The pilot in the left hand seat of the aircraft was Major (Lt Col. selectee) Burnley L. (“Bob”) Rudiger Jr., aged 37, from Norfolk, Virginia. Major Rudiger was survived by a wife and two children who were then resident at Risby, Suffolk.
The weapons system operator in the right seat was 1st Lt. Steven J. Pitt, 28, from East Aurora, New York. Lt. Pitt was survived by a wife and two children, then resident at Icklingham, Suffolk.
* The Strathaird estate was at the time owned by Ian Anderson otherwise more famous as the lead singer and flautist of the rock group Jethro Tull.
That night that an American F111 aircraft crashed on Skye it was a wild winters night and I was in charge of the hill party that flew in by RAF Sea king helicopter to Skye . The weather was that bad that we had to land on the road due to a white out! Eventually after nearly hitting electricity wires near Elgol we landed in the dark at Camusunary. This is from the report in my diary! Sadly both crew died in the crash 30 years on the relatives are still in touch with me. These were the days before mobile phones and no GPS.
1982 – Sgurr na Stri Call – out.
Dec 1982 – USAF F111 crash. 2 Fatal. Epic night search by fast party by helicopter and wild bivouac. 12 hours wait at site in appalling weather. The RAF Mountain Rescue Team involved with Board of Enquiry for 5 days a very hard incident and a huge learning point for the team.
CamasunaryRecollections from December 7 1982. By Paul Rosher who was staying in the bothy at Camasunary
The three of us, John Foggin, Paul Robson and myself had been out on
Blaven that day and had been thoroughly soaked, the fire was on and
macaroni cheese was cooking. Paul Robson, who had been attempting to
pot a rabbit with his air pistol was cleaning his gun when the sound
first occurred. Everything happened really fast after this.
A bright red light lit up the whole bay, we could see right across.
Everything started shaking, doors, windows, tables and objects on the
tables. Then there was a shock wave, not a sound but a physical
pressure which moved from left to right and when it did the fire went
out, the air was briefly sucked out of the room, our kit was flying
through the air madly and part of the ceiling fell on Paul Robson,
who ran out into the white light, covered in plaster.
I remember distinctly the thought that a nuclear war had started, after
all it was very much still the Cold War years and Holy loch did
shelter nuclear subs, well I thought it had taken a hit! I have an
uncle who is ex-army artillery and I recalled him telling me that the
thing to do was to cover your ears and open your mouth, so this is what I did.
My brother Johnny thought it was an alien spaceship! He had been cutting
the cheese into the pasta and jumped back into the corner of the room
staring at the white light glaring around the door frame. I later
pointed out if it had of been aliens and they would have traveled an
awfully long way to visit earth only to get chibbed ( battered)by a freaked out
Anyway, John and I dashed outside to find Paul Robson and see the whole top of Sgur na Stri ablaze, the diameter of the fireball I estimate at
about 200 meters plus and constituted of every colour imaginable. We
had to drag Paul Robson back inside as the white hot bits of metal
falling out of the sky began to land all too close.
We took turns standing in the rain waiting for another aircraft to
return. We could hear it out in the murky night, but no visual
contact was made. The hours passed. Eventually we heard a helicopter
approach and that is when I met Dave “Heavy” Whalley.
The snows up on the tops had by now extinguished the flames so his first
question to me was, “Okay action man, do y`know where this plane
crashed then?”, and of course I did and took them to the exact
spot. Sgurr na Stri was always our warm-up mountain, and so it is
very familiar and well loved.
When I took the RAF and MR lads to the very place one RAF guy said
“Shouldn’t we get the civvies out of here Sarge? There could be
UXB`s around” He was referring to me and the UXB`s would be the
target bombs which may not have exploded, which does not seem very
likely considering the speed this bird was doing when it collided
square on with the crag.
I recall my brother Johnny was most disgruntled that I didn’t take
him with me and his job was keeping the fire going, this menial task
was more than compensated the next day when John saw an American
officer fall in the river.
John would only be 18 when this happened and our mother, being still alive
then, used to emphasise that I must not get him injured or killed
when we were out on the mountains. Fair enough, this is why I told
him to stay put. Early the next morning whilst Paul Robson and I were
still sleeping Johnny went for water. The best place for good water
near the bothy is over the river. Now there was a very battered
bridge there in those days with many of the tread-boards missing it
was a kind of hop-skip-jump affair to get across. John had just
returned with two canister of water, the central section of the
bridge was underwater as the tide was in, but Johnny knew where the
remaining tread boards sat. When the little fat American general
tried he took one small step for man and ended up floating away out
to sea. John said he saw two squaddies on the other side just look at
each other, shrug, and then rescue their commander. Shame we missed
brightened up with a rabbit or a bucket of shellfish. We were given
masses of army rations and kit for our assistance but also told not
to leave for a few days, but we didn’t intend to.
We were interviewed first by RAF rescue in the bothy by Heavy, a very
relaxed matter of fact thing. Then we had a visit from the USAF who
again interviewed us in the bothy and basically just took down what
we said had occurred. After this USAF Intelligence wanted to
interview us which afterwards seemed a bit daft as it was exactly the
same as the interview we had just given. The final interview was the
only one where we were separated and taken individually into a
Chinook which had the cargo bay filled with technical kit and recording
equipment. This was the only session where we were told it could not
have happened as we said it did as this was not the flight path.
These guys in unmarked NATO parkas insisted that it could not have
flown in over Elgol and up into the Bay the way we recounted. We all
just stuck to our story about what happened because that was what
Years later, after I moved to Skye and got involved in Mountain Rescue work
I found out from a team member Ewan MacInnon who lived then at Elgol
that the plane was so low some glass cracked and ornaments and plates
fell from their place. It must have been dangerously low and
critically close to do this.
I still visit Sgurr na Stri at least once a year. It is one of my
favourite mountains with unrivalled views of the Cullin and many wee
crags and sections to explore or scramble. I am still finding debris,
especially in the West Riven Gulley at the top where it divides into
loose, dangerous fingers of grassy, chossy rock.
Paul Robson died in 1999, he didn’t even make it to forty. His love
affair with booze caught up with him and in the end took him away
from us like most bad lovers do. Memories remain though and I can
still recall him before the alcohol took his vigour and health away,
a tall fit young lad who loved his climbing and survival-ism and those
nights by a bothy fire telling yarns and recounting past adventures.
Those were the days we lived.