The TV Documentary Rescue a great insight into SAR and the tragic Piper Alpha Fire. Sadly we lost one of our own – Gareth Watkin RIP.

I was listening to radio Scotland yesterday and heard a moving account by Paul Berriff who directed the famous Rescue Series on the TV 1988 – 1989 . He was based with his film crew and some outstanding mountaineers filming a year in SAR based in RAF Lossiemouth. They filmed  some incredible rescues! Sadly one of them was the Piper Alpha tragedy  a tragic event documented by the film crew on board the Sea King! Paul was excellent on the radio explaining why the did the program and it was a huge success!  It was brought to my notice that we lost a ex team member on Piper Alpha. This was from Archie Melrose.

Piper Alpha  – this date in 1988. One of our own was lost on that day. Gareth Watkin was a good troop in KMRT (circa 1972-3) and he had gone on eventually to become a medic on the platform after leaving the RAF. So in remembrance I mention him to you all. Melrose – Ex RAF Kinloss MRT

Mick Coward  ex Kinloss MRT – When I read the Cullen report it said that he Gareth Watkin was last seen taking an injured man to the sick bay. From the Piper Bravo you can see the buoy marking the remains of the Piper Alpha. Whenever I went there I used to look at the buoy and think of him. Also of the other 166 that lost their lives.


It showed how well all the SAR Agencies coped on many occasions all over Scotland and it was film of real live rescues! This was unique at the time and the forerunner of media cover nowadays. The great thing that Paul and the crew were not intrusive in any way and showed great empathy for those who had been involved in an SAR incident as casualties, families and Agencys involved including team members. There was great trust between us all in the end which produced such a great series.

At the time some folk were worried especially in Mountain Rescue about allowing a film crew on rescues for various reasons. Many were worried how they as volunteers would cope with the publicity and the confidentiality of the casualties. MOD had given permission for the TV cameras to accompany the helicopter on training and rescues. In the military we were briefed to help when we could and we did many jobs with them. Looking back they in my mind proved their worth. They showed the public what goes on in a Rescue and helped on occasions. I was a Mountain Rescue RAF  team leader at the time and worked with Paul and his crew on many occasions and what professionals they are!

These were the days before instant media and I am sure they opened the public eyes to Rescues and the weather they can be called to work in.

Paul is also a Coast guard and I am sure during the filming got involved with a Rescue on the Old Man of Storr at Lochinver . Where a climber was recovered from ropes crossing onto the sea stack Paul played a part in the rescue!

They were also in the Sea King helicopter that crashed on Creag Mheagaidh when all the Lochaber Team and the film crew were extremely lucky!

Rescue was a 13-part documentary series created, directed and filmed by Paul Berriff. It focused on the air-sea rescue work of “Rescue 137”, a Sea King belonging to 202 Sqn, Royal Air ForceSearch and Rescue Force in and around their base at RAF Lossiemouth, Scotland and the North Sea over a period of a year between 1988 -1989.

Few also know the story of the recovery of those who were in the Accomadation modules when the fire started.  Sadly there  was a huge effort to recover the casualties from the accommodation-that had sunk to the sea  – bed after the explosion. It was raised and then came the massive work by Grampian Police and other Policemen throughout Scotland ! A huge undertaking after the tragedy and took a huge amount of time and effort. I spoke to several who were involved in this and few know the story.

At least a lot of the families got their loved ones returned and to grieve a huge thanks to the Police and all Agencies who helped on that terrible night.


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, Friends, Mountain rescue, Mountaineering, Views Mountaineering, Views Political?. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.