The Great Mull mystery a missing aircraft and pilot Christmas 1975 !

Last night I was called on the phone by an old pal Andy MacDade and his partner Marion. Andy was with me in my early days (1974 )in RAF Mountain Rescue in the RAF Kinloss Team.

He was up North and staying in the village and they asked me out for a beer and we had a long chat about the characters that were part of our lives then so many years ago . There were so many folk we chatted about and sadly these three are not with us now Mick Trimby , Mark Sinclair, Geordie Jewitt and Sid Green all  gone. They were great characters in our lives at the time and a reminder of how short life can be.. These were the days that all that mattered was the mountains and getting out on the hills even at Christmas.

We talked about big hill days and routes like the Mamores a big day for a new young troop. Andy sadly was a Celtic supporter yet we got on so well! We had some chats about Glasgow and the great rivalry. There is also when you meet a pal in Mountain Rescue a story always of a big call out that Andy spoke about. It was to the Island of Mull. On Christmas Eve in 1975, a tiny aircraft took off from Mull, never to be seen again.

Glen Forsa

The callout is well documented but the RAF Kinloss Mountain Rescue Team were at Fort William enjoying a peaceful break when the Police told the team on Christmas Eve that their was a missing aircraft on the Island of Mull. That was a Christmas Eve that few who were involved will forget! Can you imagine spending several days at Christmas on a big search? We searched the high ground ridges and places along with many Police and volunteers the weather was snow and sleet with poor viability it was hard going.

25-31/12/75 Isle of Mull Missing aircraft.  1 fatal.  Not found on search .  Body of pilot found four months later.  Aircraft found in sea 10 years later. Long hard search in poor winter weather. Great hospitality from the family where we stayed at Glen Forsa.

The plane that went missing that night was a red-and-white Cessna F150H, registration mark G-AVTN. In September 1975 it was purchased by Ian Hamilton, who kept it at the North Connel airport near Oban. But Hamilton was not the pilot when G-AVTN went missing on Wednesday 24 December 1975. At the controls was a 55-year-old businessman from London, Norman Peter Gibbs, who had learnt to fly as a serviceman during the Second World War. Gibbs’s body was found, in April 1975, on Mull by a local shepherd, Donald MacKinnon. It was lying on a hillside about a mile from the tiny grass airstrip from which Gibbs had taken off on Christmas Eve . No wreckage was found to indicate the fate of the aircraft. Gibbs had taken off at night in an aircraft and airfield that was not equipped for night flying and was relying on his partner with a torch to guide him in after a short flight in the dark after dinner. When he did not turn up then a big search started for several days but there was no trace.

We had searched high and low for the aircraft much in awful weather taking in some of the big hills Ben More and others and went back I think at the Easter. We were put up in the restaurant at the Glen Forsa Hotel in Mull near the airfield and looked after so well by the owners. There kindness and hospitality was exceptional and we chatted about the search and the wild days we had after the hill.  The drive from Fort William to get to Mull was exciting to say the least as we were looking forward to Christmas in Fort William. I remember the search it was a hard few days with no sign and we left after 3 days. We went back again a few months later to Mull but again we had no joy . We had all clubbed together to get our hosts a silver salver for looking after us all so well. It is always hard when you find no trace or clues and it became a bit of a mystery.

In September 1986 two clam fishermen from Mull were diving in the Sound of Mull when they reported coming across a red-and-white aircraft on the seabed. From what they were able to see, they did not detect any human remains in the plane. The divers, who were brothers called Richard and John Grieve, (both members of the Glencoe MRT)confirmed that the plane they saw was a Cessna, and that it did bear the registration G-AVTN. Their report was considered credible. It seemed that Gibbs, lost in the dark, had descended low over the sea while desperately trying to locate the airstrip. Somehow, fully clothed and in near-freezing conditions, he had managed to swim more than half a kilometre to the shore and had then climbed the hillside, only to die of exposure. How did so many miss him, the helicopters were using the airfield as a base and though the weather was poor it was a strange result.

It is still a mystery to what happend and there has been so much written about just Google and see.

About heavywhalley.MBE

After dinner speaker Lecturer and Mountain Rescue Specialist. Environmentalist. Spent 36 years with RAF Mountain Rescue and 4 years with a civilian Team . Still an active Mountaineer and loves the wild places.
This entry was posted in Aircraft incidents, Articles, Friends, Mountain rescue, Mountaineering, Weather. Bookmark the permalink.

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