Dog Tales – Part 5 Arriving at RAF Leuchars and some big aircraft crashes, huge learning.

That winter was a long one, lots of tragedy’s in the hills we loved also great days battling the weather, we were a team me and Heavy. Life had changed as Heavy got promoted and posted to RAF Leuchars he was still in his 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 there 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 one Marines from Arbroath  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 midweek.I got lots of new hills in great for my Munro   gathering and met lots of new people. We met RAF Kinloss MRT 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 MacInnes house in Glencoe and many of 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 end of the first pitch 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!

Below White Slab.

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 incredible 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 it was magical.  I am now 7 years old in human years and as Heavy says in my prime, I am  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. 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.

The Barra Call out.

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 the Island of 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 in these days 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 in Castlebay. 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 I 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.

There was one terrible tragedy at this time as I said we were especially friendly with the helicopter crew’s .In February 1985 we had a great weekend at Bridge Of Orchy it was a special weekend for weather and everyone was ice climbing apart from me and a few others after winter Munros. The weather was magnificent yet there were many call – outs the snow was bullet hard neve. On the way home to Leuchars the Wessex helicopter buzzed our convoy. Mick Anderson was the winch man 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. Ian the other local Policemen on board was very badly injured as was Mick our winchman. Mick was a close friend of us and often took us on the hill. Ian was the village Bobby who I also knew well. Mick was badly injured and we knew the crew and hard worked so closely. The aircraft was crashing down the hill and it was lucky the Killin Team were already on the hill. What they did that night I will never forget.

Little left of the Wessex.

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 went straight after crash the next morning to locate the fallen walker sadly another fatality. She had her crampons on her bag the hills were plastered with ice. 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 by this helicopter crashing I like everyone else thought we in SAR were invincible, it was a sad reminder. It’s a lot different when it’s your own folk but everyone did their best.  

The next morning Heavy and I flew into the crash site and it was a tricky time we were worried 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. The team were very subdued I was privileged to listen to listen to them when they spoke about the crash. It had clearly affected them all.    

The Mighty Wessex Photo P BOARDMAN.FBIPP

We already had a superb liaison with the Wessex helicopter but this tragedy brought us so much closer together. These were incredible days on the mountains and despite the tragedies we saved many lives and met so many new friends.

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 and loves the wild places.
This entry was posted in Aircraft incidents, Friends, Mountain rescue, Mountaineering, Rock Climbing, Views Mountaineering, Well being, Wildlife. Bookmark the permalink.

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