Tails from the Back of a Land rover Part 3 – Cairngorm tragedies, Barra Call out and Wessex crash on Ben More. Hard days.

Fun at Leuchars

Let me introduce myself: My name is Teallach I was a very soft Alsatian and I have been asked to guest on this blog. I was very lucky to have spent all of my life on the hills, mountains and wild places, this is part 2. I hope you enjoy it?

This is part 3 of my life in the mountains a dogs view.

On the Saturday the weather in the Cairngorms was that bad we were stuck at Glenmore the road was blocked and ended up hiding in the Squirrel café and we walked from there due to the weather and the road being blocked. We managed the summit of the local Castle Hill but we had to crawl to the summit. I already was doing that but to see Heavy as well was unusual. We could see nothing all day and though it was an easy hill and we were exhausted, the wind and the snow were full on.   The spindrift was incredible on the hill and even from the road you could not see the hill. It was a wall of spindrift. The main road and the railway line was closed and on that Saturday night we heard that there were over 30 missing on the hill.  Next day were told to get up to the Cairngorm Car park as a party from Heriot Watt University had a problem and one survivor had got down to the Car Park saying his friends were in big trouble. They were planning an overnight camp at Coire An Lochan and the weather caught them out. We never expected what we came across. We got up to the Cairngorm Car Park as we were asked to help and we met with some of Glenmore Lodge and Cairngorm Team. It was light hearted at first we never expected what we found and so near safety of the road.  The tragedy we came across Heavy has written about before in his Blog it was awful to experience. 15 minutes from the Car Park, three young lives were lost. They were so near safety but the weather had got them. There would have been little chance in the winds and the weather of that weekend.  I was kept away by the troops as they put them on the stretchers and it was a solemn carry back to the car park.  The short stretcher carry was very hard work and everyone was very upset. Where they had died I had walked down many times and it was so hard to believe that in such a beautiful place nature can kill. Then we went to Glenmore Lodge and told that we would be needed tomorrow. It was a very subdued night in Newtonmore unlike after a sad incident the team unwinds with a drink. Heavy was very upset unlike him and one of the Glenmore boys had a word with him, even these hard men had felt the sadness of the day. I am sure he felt that could have been us! How would we have coped with the big Storm at Hells Lum and we would have made our way off the plateau to the same Corrie where the students died?    Would we have made it we were invincible then or so we thought.

tHE RAF Teams at Glenmore Lodge after the big call -out

There was little time to mourn as we found out that one of Heavy’s friends was missing, the mountains then were a small place and most who worked in them knew each other. Paul Rodgers was an Army Instructor based in Glencoe who was out with an experienced student Bill on the same weekend. He was on a two day expedition that included a snow hole and they had not returned. Heavy knew Paul well and he had stayed with us when he gave a lecture to the team at Kinloss.   He had always met us climbing in Glencoe and the Ben and on sunny days at Polldubh in Glen Nevis. What followed was a huge search Heavy has covered it in his Blog and John Allen in his book “Cairngorm John”. It was a huge search of about 100 people, many teams and lots of search dogs and so many of Scotland’s top mountaineers came and helped. The weather at times was awful and even Rocky Jimmy Simpson’s amazing dog was blown over a Cornice and spent the night under a Cornice and survived. He was covered in ice when he was found but so hard like his owner, it was another lesson to me about the mountains in winter. We were searching the gullies at times and got avalanched several times until Heavy pulled us out and back onto the plateau. The snow and the wind was incredible and all the teams said it was very serious conditions. I had never seen such wild conditions early on in the search. Every day we were battered by the wind and it takes it out of you even a dog and the teams were pretty exhausted. We had one day of good weather when we were flown onto the snow hole sites on the plateau, Paul had planned to snow hole and we dug down over 25 feet to find old snow holes. It was a hard day digging but I hate to say I enjoyed it especially when Heavy as the smallest was put in a deep hole over 20 feet down by Paul Moore’s a Guide as he was the smallest. He was pulled out as the roof collapsed on him deep underground at times you had to laugh a bit. Most of the team slid down the Ski area on shovels it sounds strange but we needed that break after such hard times. I ran along beside and it was so strange after such a week? There was no sign at all of Paul or Bill. After several days the search was called off Heavy was heartbroken, he pleaded for the search to continue. Pete Cliff the Leader of Cairngorm Team who was to be a great friend as did Ray Sefton one of the RAF Team Leaders explained the rational. The Teams were exhausted and we had few places left to search we had done our best but this is the hardest decision ever to be made by the Police and the Teams, we had no sign of them. He went off to speak to his Military friends who were going back out next day. It was fitting that they found Paul and Bill just above the Goat Track; we had walked by this area often in the search but the weather was impossible. At times we were fighting for our own lives. The wind had changed some snow moved and a shovel was found below. Paul was found by his friends and a few MRT assisted in a sad recovery. We heard the news on the way home, we were exhausted it had been a terrible 6 days with in the Cairngorm’s alone 5 mountain fatalities.

Paul’s grave a Newtonmore , a place I still visit.

Heavy always went straight into work when he arrived back as we had been away for several days; he was working in the Catering Office at the time. The butcher gave me a huge bone as a well done. Heavy got “ did you enjoy your skive” from a  Boss and he was very lucky that statement was still in the air when Heavy walked away saying it was a good friend we were looking for and he would speak tomorrow about his stupid comment! In the military this is not what you say to a Boss but so deserved, Heavy’s career was over again? It is amazing some people’s lack of thought at times.      There was so much to take in but to get home to the fire and comfort of the house was great to be out of the wind and away from the snow. Heavy told me we were still going out on the hill next weekend! He was so upset and we helped each other, thse can be lonely times.

That winter was a long one, ots of tragedy’s in the hills we loved also great days battling the weather, we were a team me and Heavy. Life changed as Heavy got promoted and posted to RAF Leuchars he was still in trade and was in charge of the Catering Office but would join the Leuchars MRT. Now I had met the Leuchars guys on many occasions and was looking forward to the move. Heavy was a bit unsure and we got a great send off from Kinloss. Kinloss and Leuchars was a bit like Rangers and Celtic in these days.  We lived in St Andrews for a while but soon moved into a shared house in Dairsie and had a great time. Heavy was sharing with two mates Paul and Pete and it was a fun house a bit like the Young Ones.  RAF Leuchars camp was very busy as it had very noisy planes on it but we soon settled in and I stayed at Heavy’s work during the day. They had the Wessex helicopter and they were great and made my life easy with lifts to and from the hills. The aircrew were great and many became good mates and looked after me. I knew my place and was soon on board and hidden under the seats as soon as I got on board. They came out with us and stayed overnights on many occasions I was the guard for the yellow helicopter, these were great days. They had lots of Exercises this was the Cold War and the camp played games and on one Marines attacked our office it was an old armoury and were shocked when they took out the door to find me and Heavy there to greet them. I had to kid on I was a real Alsatian and they did not come in I was a hero again.

The troops made me feel at home and we climbed a lot at night and I had great adventures at Dunkeld rock climbing and the local cliffs at Glen Clova I got lots of new hills in great for my Munro   gathering and met lots of new people. We met Kinloss a lot and I made good friend with Al MacLeod who used to take me running after a long hill day, he was a real hill man. We dealt with a lot more call outs and even when out at the weekend or rock climbing we seemed to get more call outs. We went to Glencoe a lot and I got to know this wild place, I met more Mountain Rescue characters and even visited Hamish Mc Innes house in Glencoe and the Old and Bold from Lochaber.  We had some great trips to Skye and Heavy took me on a two day traverse of the ridge, we had  some epics and after it I had only had one more Munro to do on Skye the In Pin. I had fallen off on another attempt with Heavy as we tried the longer side. On the day we did it he never told me, we climbed all day in Corrie Laggan and I would wander about on the ledges. I could get up the first pitch Of Cioch Direct and meet climbers at the crux by a cheeky ledge Heavy knew. Later that day we went up the long haul to the In Pin and along with three of Heavy’s great mates, I got up it. It was a great night but I was told that I howled a bit as we went up the short side. A very bemused walker on the ridge alone was freaked out by my howling on the ridge it was an amazing day though but one I did not want to repeat. Heavy abseiled of with me on the way down and I was glad it was all over. I had a big swim and a great walk off at the end of a long day for me.  I went straight in the sea at Glen Brittle!

At this time we had the odd weekend off and troops from Kinloss and Leuchars joined together on their weekend off to have a “Bad Boys weekend” Heavy had decided to try to become a Team Leader and needed to push his climbing for the assessment. These weekends were a group of the best climbers in the teams who went out and climbed without the restrictions of the RAF team. We had some great weekend’s big climbs in Glencoe Ben Nevis and the Etive Slabs. I loved these weekends I would get some great days sunbathing whilst the boys climbed some amazing routes. I have sunbathed below Titans Wall on Ben Nevis,, chased stones below Shibboleth and scrambled up to the top of the Etive Slabs. I met even more of the great Scottish climbers these were great days. At night there would be beach parties with big fires in Appin and other places meeting many of the locals, what great days and I loved the summer after such a hard winter. I was enjoying Leuchars.  I am now 6 years old in human years and as Heavy says in my prime, I am now at RAF Leuchars in Fife and loving the team, the hill days were great and I was ticking of lots of Munros. A few times I did the same hills like the Mamore Ridge 11 Munros then and a great hill day for the young troops and we had some magic days, We had a few big call outs some were very sad and we went to some great places.

The Barra Team

A plane crashed in the Isle Of Barra and we were flown in to help. We were on the hill down at Cairndow near Arrochar and doing a funny day of Ben Lomond, Beinn an Lochan and Beinn Bhuide, lots of travelling but lots of height. We had done two and stopped at the Base Camp for some soup the HF radio was busy and this was again before mobile phones. Heavy asked the cook what was going on as this radio monitors the Military helicopters. He said it was an incident at Barrow in Furness we listened and it was a plane missing in Barra. We were not far and we soon had a Navy helicopter outside and 8 of us flew off. Now a few troops were not so happy that I was going but next minute I was on the aircraft. Now the Navy are a wee bit different with animals but Heavy was up front speaking to the crew and I was okay. The mist was down and we had to sneak in to the beach in heavy mist on Barra where we met some locals who took us to the crash site. It was some great flying by the Navy that day. It was a busy few hours and then we were told to have a crash guard overnight and the troops were in the local Hotel. You will have guessed who did the biggest stint crash guard but was rewarded with a huge meal made by the Hotel.  Next day I was in a room with Heavy and well looked after for a few days. It was an amazing trip and we made some great friends with the locals. We had no transport but some Nuns looked after us and even drove us around in there pick up crazy days. These aircraft crashes were now second nature to me but I did not like them, the smell of fuel. The twisted wreckage and I was always on guard. I could not tell Heavy but was to get a shock over the years to come. I had to be aware of my paws getting cut on the metal. These were dangerous places.

Life was good and then Heavy met a lovely lassie Dianne, she looked after me and did not even complain about my hairs all over the car and the house. I got new dog bowls and a new bed life got pretty easy and even better she liked the hills. She even got on with the guys in the team and we had some great fun.

The Wessex crash on Ben More

There was one terrible tragedy at this time as I said we were especially friendly with the helicopter crew’s .In February 1987 we had a great weekend at Bridge Of Orchy it was a special weekend for weather and everyone was climbing apart from me and a few others after winter Munros. On the way home the Wessex helicopter buzzed our convoy. Mick Anderson was the winchman on board and a great friend, he always looked after me. The troops called him “grumpy Mick” and he always smoked a pipe but we did lots of hills together on his time off, he was also a team member.   The team was asked to help in the search for a fallen walker. As we neared Ben More near Crianlarich the helicopter which had a few of the local Killin Mrt hit the mountain. It was a terrible night and the outcome was the Killin Team Leader was killed.

Harry Lawrie the Killin Team Leader.

Ian the other local Policemen on board was very badly injured as was Mick our winchman. The tale of that night has been written about by Heavy and others. Next day in the daylight there was little left of the helicopter and we had a hard week on the mountain working with investigation Board. During that very sad period I made many friends especially in the local Killin team. We even straight after crash located the fallen walker sadly another fatality. The local people from Crainlarich brought the team food and even me tins of dog food and biscuits, I was amazed by their care despite losing their local Policeman. I was shocked that this helicopter crashing I like everyone else thought we in SAR were invincible, it was a sad reminder. The next morning Heavy and I flew into the crash site and it was a tricky time but we got on with it though it was hard.  Every day with the Air Investigation Board was strange the troops were roped up on the steep ground to an engineer who was investigating the crash. I walked around. This was my type of ground but I was amazed how little of the helicopter was left and how hard the mountains can be.

These were a hard few years.


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, Avalanche info, Family, Friends, Mountain rescue, mountain safety, Mountaineering, Munros, Other hills Grahams & Donalds, People, Rock Climbing, Views Mountaineering, Views Political?, Weather, Wildlife. Bookmark the permalink.

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