Part 8 – Tragedy – Just before we left Leuchars Kinloss Heavy’s great mate Al Macleod was killed whilst soling the North Face of the Matterhorn. The team was going out to Braemar for the weekend when the Police stopped the convoy and Heavy had to go to the phone and get the sad news. When we arrived Heavy at the village Hall he told the team Al was a big mate of mine as well and we had done some great days together especially after long hill days. He was leaving the RAF and had worked for Heavy for the last few months he was in the RAF as full time in the Leuchars MRT. He was an incredible mountaineer and man. Always smiling the women loved him, that evening after he told the team Heavy went to see Al folks. He took me as we had been before Al had taken us a few times when we were at Kinloss. I came in the house and Al’s family asked me in. I heard all the sad news, I loved Al as I was one of the few who could keep up with him after our sneaky days out. Al’s family lived in Blairgowerie and Heavy organised the funeral, it was an awful time. Al as many do had no Insurance in the Alps for climbing and a great officer who was with Heavy pulled the strings to get Al Home. The Team had a Wake at Leuchars where many came from all over it was a very sad night.
We left the troops early to celebrate Al’s life; Heavy had a hard time explaining to young Yvette that Al had been killed as just before he had left he had signed her autograph book before he went. Most of the team had thought they were indestructible and invincible and this was a huge shock to them and the system. Al had been the man Heavy called after Lockerbie it hit us both very hard; running on the hill was never the same again without my big mate. I was getting a bit older now and starting to slow down. I was finding how hard this mountain life can be. We had only a few months to get ready for our move to RAF Kinloss this was Heavy’s dream posting.
Now it was not till late October 1990 that we moved to RAF Kinloss in Morayshire and it was hard leaving the troops. Heavy was taking over as the Mountain Rescue Team Leader of the Kinloss Team. We had a great farewell party at the Kingshouse Hotel in Glencoe. Amazingly the lassies were invited to it so we had a real party. It was a special night in the Hotel with Big Ian Nicholson the “mine host” looking after us. While Heavy was in the Hotel I was camping outside with some of the troops but it was a great night. The helicopter popped in and nearly took the tents out. After that it was a move to Kinloss. Now before in our moves it had been easy box stuff up and head off, now with the family it was so difficult. Old friends John and Mary helped and we had moved into a lovely rented house at Rafford till Heavy and Vicky found a house. I was in the last of 3 long journeys from Leuchars to Kinloss, it was snowing and very late and we had a full van and me and my mate Clova the cat. It was mayhem as Clova escaped her box in the van and was driving me nuts in the back. There was no room to move for me I was the last thing to leave Leuchars and for a moment thought they were leaving me.
We soon all settled down at the new house at Rafford and Heavy had a different Team at Kinloss to handle. There were many of the” Old and Bold” it took time but I was happy watching the world go by outside the old section at RAF Kinloss and listening to the craic.
We hoped for a quiet time in the team but there was no chance of that winter. Straight after New Year we had a spate of Call – outs and then a near disaster when the Sea King crashed on the big Corrie on Creagh Meaghaidh. Amazingly no one was killed and the Team was heavily involved and we 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 and could not believe that no one was hurt. We also knew the aircrew and the film crew well that were on board it was a very personal call – out. After everyone was flown away I was on crash guard duties for a few days as both Kinloss and Leuchars MRT shared the crash guard duties. It had to be guarded at night as well so I was at the site for a few days. To see the big helicopter lying on its side was a big shock, but we still flew in and out with the team to replace the troops but not me. I 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. I had proved my worth as the odd journalist and local climbers arrived for a look. They would see me and think I was a guard dog if only they knew.
The team went back into the normal routine of training and call – outs but Al death had made many think of what they were doing. Al had pushed big routes in the Alps in in the Himalayas just missing out on the summit of Everest by the West Ridge. He had not long returned from Shiviling where he summited and told us that RAF MR could achieve so much more on a purely RAF MR expedition. Heavy had taken him ice climbing to Canada where they had so much fun and I loved the tales, he would pop by the wee house in Dairsie when he was bouldering nearby and always brighten the day with his tales and huge smile. Life had to go on though and RAF Kinloss was so busy.
It was straight into winter when we arrived and Heavy ensuring things were done his way caused a few problems but he was looked after by “Man Mountain Dan” his Deputy. The call- outs started straight away and came thick and fast. It was hard winter was I getting older but still the troops dragged me out. Heavy would give me a break on the big searches and the odd day off. The troops wanted me as I was still a good navigator. The Mountain Rescue section at RAF Kinloss was very old and had holes in the wall and it was even worse in the winter as the now came inside under the war built wooden huts. It was like an old bothy but what character. We had a few great call – outs in this time. At times where we found several casualties and one a 15 year old boy on the Ben a huge 3 day search was a great result. They were asked if they could keep going sometimes out for day after day the Rescue Teams were buzzing especially after such a long search. We had been away for over a week on call – outs and Heavy asked the team if they would continue and of course they did. This caused lots of problems for the wives and partners who hardly saw their families during this period. I was on the hill exhausted like everyone when the young lad was found. The cheers resounded round the Ben by everyone it was a special moment what a bunch.
Kinloss was a great place to be a slower pace with the Nimrod aircraft and most lunchtime many of the team would have lunch in the MR section and plan their hill day. At the end of the winter on the 30 May a lovely day for weather at lunchtime the phone rang and it was our control that a plane had crashed. It was amazing within 15 minutes we were in a Sea King helicopter heading for the Isle of Harris the weather was magnificent and as we flew so fast it was really busy on the aircraft. Heavy was up front and on the way they had reports of a Shackelton Aircraft with 10 on board had crashed. It was the only bit of mist on the Island as we arrived. It was a mini hell, the safety beacons were all going off and all the crew were dead. It was like a battlefield again, I was used to it by now as was Heavy and the team. We were there for 4 days it was a sad time, we worked with the Investigation Board and I did crash guard as usual and the team worked so hard. The aircraft had come from the neighbouring Station at Lossiemouth and the tragedy was very raw.
The Kinloss team had been flown in by helicopter, Hercules and a small jet the rest drove the long way. We flew back ahead of the aircraft bringing the 10 bodies to Lossiemouth and landed in our Hercules aircraft from there. We drove through the station most were out to see their comrades returned but we received a few grateful thanks. It was very like Lockerbie for Heavy but he daren’t say anything, I flew back with the team in the Hercules how many dogs do that, it was very quiet on the way home. It was amazing the difference the way we were treated after we did an aircraft crash. After the Shackelton crash various VIP’s arrived at Kinloss and many were in the office speaking to Heavy. He told them regardless of who they were what a great bunch the teams were and in short sharp words what they did on aircraft crashes. It needed to be done and few realised that and we were under threat of cuts. I was under the desk listening until I yawned or walk out. Senior officers opening the door for an old dog was a great thing to see, the troops loved it and made me a Sergeant on the team nominal role.
We arrived back to Kinloss and Heavy was busy as always with the media and the reports, it had been a hard few days and a sad welcome to RAF Kinloss. I was getting old by now I was over 10 and as they say had some “paper round” my body was as one would expect beginning to show my age. I was not allowed to jump over fences any more or jump out of the 4 tonner. I still managed big days though but was very sore at the end of a day. I began to sleep even more not easy as home with Stephen and the cat on my case but I saw a lot more of them. The team had a plane crash just of the Station a Canberra aircraft crashed killing one of the crew but the team were there to help get the other aircrew out with their spinal boards. Heavy was running the Call outs and was on Control most of the time and I stayed with him. Meeting more God’s of Mountain Rescue. The Team had two Search Dogs now and we made friends, they even had a cage made for them to travel in the land rovers! I still travelled in the landrover and knew when there was a call – out or the weekend Exercise as I would be in the transport waiting. Folk were amazed but I had by now seen it all.
Heavy went away for a long period to the Himalayas and for the first time I stayed at home and was looked after by the family and was I looked after very well, he was away for 7 weeks. When he came back I went out and had a hard winter, the cold really hit me, my joints were very stiff. We had lots of visits to the men in white coats, lots of pills and potions but you cannot stop ageing. I loved our walks with the kids, swimming was great for me and I would be in the sea every day not matter what the weather and still jumping off the rocks into the sea the kids loved it. We often went to Cummingston our local sea cliff and I loved the summer and the sun whilst the kids and team climbed.
Gradually I got worse and as happened my back legs started to fail, I could not get up easily; I was in pain but never showed it. Heavy had to put me in the car and weekends were spent with the cook at Base Camp but it was fun to be with the troops. My last hill day was at Bridge of Orchy we were setting out from the village hall and I got to the railway line and walked back to the bothy. Heavy came back and knew my hill days were over. My last hill was the local Ben Rinnes with the kids and after that it got a lot worse with my arthritis really affecting me. In the end going to the toilet was not easy and getting up after it was worse, I just lay about and slept a lot more, the pain was worse and I even growled a bit when Heavy lifted me, but it was the pain that made me do it.
My life got pretty bad and there was little to be done, the man in the white coat said so. Heavy did not tell anyone but he did the right thing and we had a great wander down to Cummingston our local sea cliff he carried me down the path to the sea. After that we went to the vets and I had one of the few cuddles from him and then slept dreaming about the hills and all my friends and the kids. I was a proud dog but had lost my dignity and it was definitely the correct thing to do and I was asleep in seconds.
The last thing I saw was Heavy’s tears and all and he had to go tell Vicky, Yvette, Steven and the team. What a life I had, hard but I had seen things and been places where few would ever go. I had met some of the best folk in the World all because I had big paws and a wee man with a big voice. I had been on the hills since a pup loved every day. I never chased deer or sheep or any animal. I learned how to look after myself on the hill and what a life I had. I had flown in helicopters, and the Hercules aircraft met so many but more important what a life in the mountains. What people I had met and seen.
Who will look after Heavy now?
What a dog, what a life thanks Teallach that last bit still makes me weep.
Heavy – January 2020
Great advice about taking your Dog on the Mountains. In winter especially if your taking your Dog out the dog and you must be capable of looking after your dog. The link below will give you some great tips and a MUST READ for all Dog owners. Please read it and be safe and have fun.