I have been sorting out my washing and gear from a great trip to The Isle of Arran and Ardgour via the Mull Of Kintyre. I was away for over a week and it ended in in Arran with my pal Dan Carrol. The main point of the trip was to speak at a fundraiser for the Arran Mountain Festival and the Arran Mountain Rescue Team in the Corrie Village Hall. It all seemed to go well and a great night with two of the local lassies Lucy and Kirsty telling their tale of a trip over all the 700 metre peaks on the Island a great story. It was all go but I have had a bit of time to reflect on the last few days and especially the visit to the Mull Of Kintyre to the Chinook Memorial.
It was a wet few days in Ardgour yet a great trip with the Moray Mountaineering Club and a meeting in Fort William on the best days weather of the trip. It was then a drive with Dan to his folks near the Clonaig Ferry an overnight stop and then next day a visit to the Mull of Kintyre with Dan’s Mum and Dad to visit the Memorial for the Chinook aircraft crash that had that tragic accident in 1994 where 29 were killed.
I was with the RAF Kinloss Mountain Rescue Team and flew into the scene by Sea King helicopter in a fast party of 6 it was a tragic scene. The flight was low and fast and our minds in the busy helicopter was racing about what we would meet. The memorial is a poignant place and we had varying weather and 4 seasons in a day with warm sunshine at the end. The views were stunning and I was given some time to go down to the Lighthouse alone following the zig zag road where we landed in the Sea King helicopter all these years ago. To me it was a thought-provoking visit. From the memorial it was a steep descent of about 500 feet down the road to the lighthouse where we landed we raced up the road into the smoke and hell. According to the others the visibility was 20 yards in the fog. The lighthouse keepers had heard the crash and gone to scene they were shocked but there was little to do but get the emergency services in. They did not know how many were on the aircraft so we had to check around maybe someone had survived?
When I got down to the crash site it was just ferns and heather. I am always amazed how my memory seems to shut out all the bad stuff I have seen in my life and little seemed familiar of that tragic day.
There is nothing left on the crash site only the memorial well above which towers over the scene. Sadly there are lots of coins left at the base of the Memorial it for what reason I have no clue? In my mind they seem out-of-place but maybe someone has an answer?
When we landed only an hour after the crash off the helicopter the aircraft was still on fire and we had to race up the road the burning helicopter and located the 29 fatalities. As I left the helicopter I asked two of the team to keep an eye on me as this was too like Lockerbie to me. The fires the wreckage and the smoke were so familiar. In the end you have to cope with whatever you see. It was a tricky few days all these years ago for all of us and a big effect on many of us. There was nothing we could do for anyone just be there and ensure this very dangerous crash site was monitored until the other Agencies arrived.
We did the crash guard that night as the casualties could not be moved until next day, it was a difficult night out on this lonely place with the smell of fuel, smoke and death about. A local minister came up and said a few prayers with us, it was surreal and then next day the RAF Leuchars Mountain Rescue Team and others recovered the casualties once the Police, AIB gave the authority and permission.
It had taken me many years nearly 23 years to go back to the Mull Of Kintyre and people may wonder why I did this? I missed the Memorial Ceremony in memory of the crew a few years ago and have always wondered what it was like. It was a thing I had to do, another hurdle for me and I will admit it was a difficult time but well worth the effort in my mind. In the end 29 people died here and it was a tragic time and one that changed many lives.
The Mull of Kintyre is not an easy place to get to and it is a long drive even from the main road but one of great wild beauty. In the varying weather it was and incredible drive the terrain and the single tracked road make this an easy place to restrict access to. On that awful day in 1994 apart from the Emergency Services it was an easy site to Control and keep the Media at bay.
I learnt much from that incident and over the years I have spoken about that incident to many organisations hoping that the lessons learned are passed on for future disasters. Many forget that this happened over 20 years ago and 29 folk lost their lives to me it will live with me forever and I can only thank the efforts of the Teams and Agencies who were involved and to Andy and Kim who were with us on the “fast party” thanks for keeping your eye on me.
We were a bit wiser about Post Traumatic Stress Disorder by now and a better understanding for those involved but not a scene you wish to see in your life. Yet this was what we were trained for in RAF Mountain Rescue and it was our job and we did our best. I had a problem with some Agencies when they arrived as there was little anyone can do and you need to keep those who do not need to be there aware from the trauma. If you do not need to be there and there is nothing you can do it is important that we keep as many away from the scene as we can. It sounds simple but hard to explain and I try to explain this in my talks.
I was interested to read an initial report of the Rhinog Fawr in North Wales Helicopter Crash were a family of 5 were sadly killed on the 29 March 2017.
The report states ” it was decided that to minimise NWMRA team members exposure to the traumatic crash scene they would be not be deployed to the crash site. Their role was to support the casualty recovery further down the mountain”
Things are changing! Keep those at the traumatic scene to minimum to recover and for safety of those involved. Lessons are being learned bit at times you need to remind Agencies as memories can be short?
Mull of Kintyre
“Smiles in the sunshine and tears in the rain
Still take me back where my memories remain
Flickering embers go higher and higher
As they carry me back to the Mull of Kintyre
Mull of Kintyre, oh mist rolling in from the sea
My desire is always to be here
Oh Mull of Kintyre “