45 Years Ago the Cairngorm Disaster happened on 21 November 1971. Lest we forget?

RAF Kinloss Archives

1971 – 21 November – Cairngorms Disaster – Feith Buidhe Ben MacDui 6 fatalities  5 children and 1 adult. The worst mountain tragedy to date in Scotland 2 survivors – 3 of the RAF Kinloss team decorated for their efforts on the Search and recovery.

Sadly a terrible tragedy occurred 45 years ago in the Cairngorms. A party of 8 from a school  in Edinburgh of which 6 died  attempted to reach the Corrour bothy in the Larig Ghru via the Cairngorm plateau. Due to various problems they were forced to bivouac beside a small river called the Feith Bhuidhe.


Another party from the same school attempted a more ambitious route and were also forced to bivouac and managed to reach the Curran bothy and stayed the night their, eventually in wild weather they made it back to there base at Laggangalia expecting to find the rest of the group the rest were not there. In the callout that followed a huge operation was put into place in wild weather. Teams from Glenmore Lodge ,Braemar, Cairngorm SARDA and RAF Kinloss were all involved. Unfortunately in the end 5 children aged 15 -16 died and one child and an adult was saved.


This is well documented in a few books John Allan “Cairngorm John” gives details as does “Bobbie on Ben Mac Dui” by the Braemar Team Leader. It is a harrowing story and one that has huge lessons to learn for us all. I had arrived at RAF Kinloss the month before and tried to join the Kinloss team but was turned away as to small, otherwise I may have been on this terrible tragedy and am so glad I was not there. The team rarely talked about it and there efforts on that rescue though George Bruce the Kinloss Team Leader did tell me his story and how it effected him and the Team. I am now on a mission to get the tale of what the RAF Team did and will try to find out?

To recover fatalities in the mountains is tragic but to find 5 kids must have been a terrible time for all involved.  This had huge repercussions on Outdoor Education and it all changed after the Enquiry mostly for the better.  The Mountain Leadership Board is now a huge influence and better education for those who use the mountains and who take kids out have improved standards dramatically, We never want to see such a tragedy again.


After this disaster the bothies in the plateau were taken down in 1973, there was much debate about this by the mountaineering fraternity.  There were huge politics involved as some of the bothies were taken down. Mountain Rescue learned lots of lessons from this incident and a bit of incredible flying by the helicopter without a doubt saved  the two who survived. The efforts of all these teams involved and of course the Police must never be forgotten, a huge effort in wild conditions by all the searchers saved lives.  This was a terrible tragedy and this Anniversary must bring some tragic memories for the relatives of those involved. I always have a thought for those who died when I am out on the plateau especially near the Feith Bhuide.

I tried to tell the story especially to the younger team members  about the tragedy and where it occurred in the Cairngorm plateau. This can be a wonderful place on a good day but in  dark wild winter November night it must have been awful.  The photo below is of the Curran bothy  now demolished after that winter!


Memebers of the RAF Kinloss Team who played a part in the Rescue little is told of their part in the tale.

Member’s of the RAF Kinloss Team who played a part in the Rescue little is told of their part in the tale. A rare day in uniform after the tragedy George Bruce  BEM is third from the right. They never spoke about the tragedy till many years later. Kinloss Team Member’s  Jullian Ashby , Stew McKenzie, George Bruce RIP, Marty Rowe, and Michael Bugsy Rabbit’s.  I would love to hear their stories? Great guys who all taught me a lot about the mountains and mountaineering.

Todays tips; Learn form the past, short days in the mountains are especially relevant in early winter November/ December due to shortage of daylight 8-9  hours. Plan for the time of year and the weather. I did a Winter walk in 1978 this was a West to East of Scotland it was in November. we were young and daft, it was unsupported using pre placed food dumps at bothies and keepers houses . It was 20 days of huge effort which I have written about in previous blogs. The the weather we hit on that trip was terrible most days we were pushed to our limits, often I thought of the tragedy in the Cairngorms when we pushed one we thought we were invincible as you do when so young and yet we  learned so much!

The Curran Bothy now gone at the end of a winter!

The Curran Bothy high on the Ciarngorm Plateau long gone - demolished after the Diaster.

This blog is dedicated to the memory of those who lost their lives, those who survived and all involved in saving two lives. I know many of those who were involved in the Rescue and recovery of this tragedy and my thoughts are with you all.

I was so lucky to be taken to the mountains and wild places by my father and mother, we had so many adventures which gave me a love of these places. We walked in Galloway, Arran and the Highlands. I joined the Boys Brigade and loved the walks in the Galloway hills and expeditions in winter at 12 years old to the bothies like Back Hill of the Bush. Later in school our geography teachers took us on some wild trips and I remember getting to summit of Ben Lomond in winter as a 14 year old when most had gone back. I was so lucky to have so many who helped me and this has never been forgotten by me. Hamish Brown a great legend in Scottish mountaineering took things to another level with his mountaineering with school kids including the classic Skye ridge. These were the days before the sad event in the Cairngorms and it took years to recover taking and introducing children safely to the wild places.


1965-glenmore-lodge-courses, were in place prior to the incident.

Would any of the RAF Kinloss MRT involved like to drop me a line that were involved in this sad incident it would be of great help. You were all unassuming heroes and I would love to add it to the late George Bruce’s tale?

Thinking of you all.

The tragic day on the plateau with the troops and the Jet Ranger helicopter.

The tragic day on the plateau with the troops and the Jet Ranger helicopter.

About heavywhalley.MBE

Mountain Rescue Specialist. Environmentalist. Spent 37 years with RAF Mountain Rescue and 3 years with a civilian Team . Still an active Mountaineer when body slows, loves the wild places.
This entry was posted in Books, Friends, History, Mountain rescue, Recomended books and Guides. Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to 45 Years Ago the Cairngorm Disaster happened on 21 November 1971. Lest we forget?

  1. andy says:

    Hiya, I think it was 1975 they took down Curran. There is a picture of the bothy on the geography.org site and it says 1975.


  2. David Gunn says:

    One of the survivors later worked as a Clachaig barman back mid 70’s. I met him again in 2004 after he fell leading SC gully and pulled his mate off, both falling down to the corrie floor next to Stu MacDonald and I from JSMTC. Both were bruised but nothing serious, and a single ancient peg as the belay still on the rope. Walked across and he just said hi davy long time no see! Small world.


  3. David Gunn says:

    I think the guy mentioned must have been with Beatties group as defo not Davidsons


  4. bobhankinson says:

    The story by one of the Leuchars pilots at https://www.aircrew-saltire.org/lib128.html is a further indication of how many lives could have been lost over three days but for judgement and a lot of luck.


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