Some memories. Working with the Air Investigation Branch (AIB) The Wessex Helicopter crash on Ben More and St Abbs Head Jaguar.

1987 Feb – The Wessex Crash Ben More Crianlarich – Hamish with the AIB. Helping measure the angle of the ground.


The photo above shows a part that few realise happens when the recovery of casualties is over after an aircraft crash then the Air Investigation Branch (AIB) investigate the crash site for clues to why the aircraft crashed. The photo above was taken on this steep side of Ben More (Crainlarich) it was mid winter very icy and a slip could be serious. A walker had already fallen and been killed on the rescue that the Wessex was involved in. Over the years there were many accidents in winter on this steep slope.  In the mountains an investigation was never easy and on steep snow and ice very difficult to look after the AIB who are mainly interested in finding answers and have to be reminded of where they are at times so involved in their tasks. We usually worked one to one with them each team member responsible for their AIB personnel. At times when it was a military enquiry high ranking officers were usually involved, there was no rank on the hill first name terms and our team member’s were in charge of the safety. That took a bit of sorting at times but the old phrase ” the mountains have no respect for rank or authority” usually won the day.

The AIB  on the Wessex Crash and the Board of Enquiry located the first impact point where the blade hit the mountain on very steep grade 1/2 ground a minute mark in the snow near the top of the hill.  It was not easy to locate and I must admit I had thought they had no chance. In the end I  had huge admiration for these people and once we learned about each others skills it was a great teamwork but a hard daily task up to the crash site for several days. I have been on many of these incidents it was a hidden part of our job but one that was essential in working out why the accident had occurred for future flight safety.  One must remember that these are crash sites where someones loved one has sadly died or badly injured.

At a crash site St Abbs Head Jaguar crash.

On another incident we had a Jaguar crash into the steep loose sea cliffs at St Abbs Head. It happened when we were at RAF Leuchars and we arrived very quickly. Unfortunately the aircraft hit the cliff and an abseil down to the impact point was very dangerous. The cliff was still on fire and the ropes nearly melted! Sadly the pilot was killed but we had a hard few days with Board Of Enquiry. These are dangerous places as the  twisted aircraft metal can be very sharp and there may hidden dangers especially with a military aircraft and protective clothing is necessary.

St Abbs Head big cliffs.

On the St Abbs Head crash I was loathe to let them abseil down to  the impact point the next day but we did and proved our point.  When we arrived it was a short flight from Leuchars by helicopter we had a few epics trying to keep the Police away from the edge of the cliff that was fairly loose and one of my team young Mark was nearly arrested for telling them in his own words how dangerous the area was.  It was a tricky couple of days  off loose rock and bits of sharp aircraft bits and great learning for all that was to stand us in good stead in the years to come.

1989 st Abbs Head April abseil with AIB. Steep learning day.

In all these were tricky times over the years I was at many such incidents and how the lessons can be easily forgotten as people move on.  It is such a more difficult task for the AIB to carry out their task in a winter and mountain environment.

St Abbs Head Memorial

The incident on Skye was a hard one when the F111 crashed in winter 1982 in a remote area. I worked for a week with the Americans and it was a big trip in every day even though this is a small remote peak.  My blog has the full story.

1982 AIB F111 Skye

The USA F111 on Skye was one I have written about in other blogs a week on Skye on a remote part with the USA Airforce.  We had a few incidents in the Borders with the USA planes and our own aircraft and many light aircraft in the mountains. Nowadays there are huge environmental issues and health and safety  and if a military aircraft may have huge implications and these incidents sadly will continue no matter how much technology improves.

2001 F15 – Cairngorms.

In 2001 the USA aircraft F15 Crash in the Cairngorms was a huge incident in winter and lots of lessons were learned by all involved. Others were a light aircraft on Liathach in  2000 in Torridon founds months later. Also another a few years later up near Seanna Bhraigh in Ross – shire.

2000 Liathach Cessna found months later.

When I worked within the ARCC I spoke often with the AIB and was invited down to London to give a chat to them. I have many unique experiences of these incidents in the mountains and wild places. I spent ages on my presentation but it was decided that someone senior should present ( with very limited experience) so I never went, they will have to wait for the book.

No mentioned are of course Lockerbie, the Mull of Kintyre Chinook,the Harris Shackleton and many more huge incidents on their own.

A short insight into a few incidents and some great people.

AAIB has its origins in the Accidents Investigation Branch of the Royal Flying Corps, founded in 1915. We’re now an independent unit within the Department for Transport.

The Chief Inspector of Air Accidents reports directly to the Secretary of State for Transport on air safety matters.

There are 6 teams of inspectors, each led by a principal inspector. The teams are made up of operations inspectors, engineering inspectors and flight data recorder inspectors.


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 Aircraft incidents, Mountain rescue, mountain safety, Mountaineering, Views Political?. Bookmark the permalink.

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