One of the Lochaber MR Team commented on a photo I put up on my Blog a while ago it was of an incident during 1989 I was the Team Leader at RAF Leuchars and had just been told that I would be getting the RAF MR Team at RAF Kinloss as Team Leader. It was what I had always wanted and was incredibly happy. At that time there was a change quite rightly for girls to join the RAF MR teams and this was backed at a high level politically. In late January I was out with the RAF Leuchars Team where I was still the Team Leader with my Boss Bill Gault., Few Officers sadly in the military impressed me but Bill was special and he was an RAF Wessex helicopter crewman and so well-known throughout SAR. He was the ideal leader of this wild bunch of Mountain Rescue Troops and man who guided supported and trusted us. We were checking out the bothies with a high-ranking RAF Female officer who was not happy to be in Scotland in winter at the weekend and had no clue of what we did and was not interested at all. She was undoubtedly a city lady and was appalled by Scotland its lack of people, houses and amenities we had little in common but Bill held it together for us. We showed her how we lived at weekends, she met so many characters from the village halls and local characters and she was horrified. In truth she has little communication skills and was definitely not a happy lady. We were at Roybridge when I got a call from the ARCC . There were no mobile phones then I was told that the Lossiemouth Sea King had crashed on the nearby Craig Mheaghaidh. We had hoped for a quiet time in the team but there was no chance of that in this wild winter. Straight after New Year we had a spate of Call –outs we had been on the go all the time. When I was told that the Sea King had crashed I feared this was another disaster. It had crashed in the big Corrie on Creagh Meaghaidh below the cliffs and near where the rescue box was.I had been dropped of here often and was always aware of the varying winds and the helicopter difficult landings near the rescue box in poor weather. My head was spinning.
It is a wild place guarded by the huge cliffs and a long walk in of 2 hours we had done it often and a big hill to take casualties of in bad weather. Amazingly no one was killed and the Team was heavily involved and we were so pleased that everyone was okay I had a feared the worst at first. The helicopter was full of the “Old and Bold “from Lochaber MRT and as we flew in to the scene we could not believe that no one was hurt. It looked like a huge hurt animal lying broken on the hill and thank goodness the weather held. We also knew the aircrew they were all pals and the film crew on board were also well known to most of us. It was a very personal call –out.
After everyone was flown away after the crash it was still amazing that no one was killed. The hill was quite and the scene of the broken helicopter upsetting, how small it look in this big wild hill. The RAF teams were on crash guard duties for a few days as both Kinloss and Leuchars MRT shared the task. As is the protocols it had to be guarded at night as well so the teams were at the site for a few days. It was sad to see the big helicopter lying on its side was a big shock to us all but we still flew in and out with the team in another Sea King to replace the troops but not my dog Teallach. He was fed at the site and slept with the troops at the tent. We had a few visitors and then the Investigation Team arrived with the Crash and smash boys and we handed the site over to them. I was glad to get away after a few days.
Few would imagine what was going on in my head when the crash happened as I had sad memories of the tragic Wessex helicopter crash on Ben More where the Killin MRT Team Leader Harry Lawry was killed and two pals were seriously injured. I was there and it was a night I will never forget and have written about it on my blogs. It was only a few years on 1 February 1987 but the memories were still so clear in my mind? We had been so lucky again; I knew so many of the crew the Lochaber Team and the Film crew. Someone was watching over them? The Lochaber Team had a “staying alive party” in the pub Nevis bank in Fort William and our high-ranking officer was not impressed by the antics and left next day with her report that we were all mad.
Footnote : The girls joined RAF Mountain Rescue and became and are huge asset the MOD went a bit overboard as they do instead of being low-key. The civilian Mountain Rescue teams had them for years and nowadays it is common and several friends are or have been team leaders.
The helicopter was rebuilt and flew again as I was told when I flew on call -out a few years later in it. I never enjoyed flying and still don’t.
Never take the helicopters or the emergency Services for granted. Nature rules no matter how good the technolgy.
1989 Sea King Crash Comments
- I MacColl – I had a 2.8 Ford Capri at the time and I overtook Andy Nicol in his go faster Fiat en-route to the scene …….he was gob smacked as his speedo was reading 110 mph as I blasted past………topic of conversation many times later…..we were all glad no-one was seriously injured…
- s.Atkins – Aside from the crash, which I still recall as being one of coldest jobs imaginable, the visit of the senior officer, was memorable. We originally were staying in Corpach, I think, before moving to Laggan. Corpach was a grim bothy, and I recall the officer and her tiny entourage being utterly appalled that anyone would choose to live like that! I just think that the bothy/RAFMR infrastructure at the time was a few years away from mixed gender service. Glad it didn’t take too long. I remember sitting in a life raft trying to keep warm after the tent got trashed! That was a fun job once we knew everyone was OK.
- S. Turner – I remember the aircrew had opened their survival aids and had been playing with them, trying to float down the burn in Allt Coire Ardair in the liferafts. The next day we had to carry the cameras and sound kit back up for the BBC, it was windy as hell and the camera man tried to get us to stand and act as a windbreak for him. I think it was big Joe Wiggins said he was not having any of that and kept bumping in to him saying was the wind, we were all in stitches.
- A. Beaton – I was one of the LMRT members dropped by the Seaking at Aberarder minutes before the crash. They were going to come back and winch us in. We began to wonder what was keeping them. A few of us stayed at the crash site til the RAF MRT arrived. We passed the time robbing the survival kits and having our photos taken wearing the pilots hat. Happy days.
G Phillips – we parked our SAR Wessex alongside the crash site, about 30minutes after the crash.
it was the only time I ever saw 60 knots showing on my airspeed indicator, while parked on the ground. Martin Ring was the NCO winchman in our Wessex crew. He spotted the only safe place to land the Wessex by the crashed SeaKing.
Martin later rescued fast jet aircrew from the sea, after ejection and then became fast jet aircrew himself and was rescued after ejecting from a stricken Tornado jet, off Cyprus.
I believe he is now the Flight Safety manager of a large commercial airline.
He spotted the one safe ledge for us to land at that crash site. I was very impressed!
- P. Lucas – The pilot did a magnificent job in saving what he could from a very difficult situation. He encountered a strong downdraft and at the same time, suffered a single engine failure, caused by the main rotor gearbox failing at the time when he needed as much power as he could. They impacted the ground at about 60kts. It could have been so much worse.
A few years ago I met the pilot and his family. They were amazed I knew anything about this crash. They were all incredibly fortunate to have survived. Not least due crew.