Barra is the most southerly of the inhabited islands in the Outer Hebrides.
Long famed for its beauty – boasting beaches, hills, machair and moor all in a small island – Barra is a special place to visit, especially if you arrive by plane.
The airport is one of the most unusual in the world, with flights landing on the beach at Cockle Strand in between tides. At high tide the runway disappears beneath the waves. Barra is also accessible by ferry, which departs from Oban and arrives at the main settlement, Castlebay. Not the way we arrived.
A Call – out in an Island can be tricky and I have have done a few. In 1984 a Piper light aircraft crashed in the Isle Of Barra and we were flown into help. We out that weekend and were on the hill down at Cairndow near Arrochar. The weather was not great so instead of climbing on the Cobbler we decided a day of Ben Lomond, Beinn an Lochan (when it was still a Munro and Beinn Bhuide. It involved lots of travelling including a boat over to Loch Lomond but lots of height and 3 Munros. We had done two Ben Lomond and Beinn An Lochan and stopped at the Base Camp Cairndow for some soup the HF radio was busy and this was again before mobile phones. The HF radio was used to call us out and allowed us to track if there were helicopters in the area. I asked the cook what was going on as this radio was busy as were the Military helicopters in the UK. Our Cook (we all took turns in these days) said it was an incident at Barrow in Furness (He had his music playing a bit loud)we listened and it was a plane missing in Barra.
We were not far away from the Island and contacted our Control at Pitreavie and we soon had a Navy helicopter from Prestwick outside and 8 of us flew off. Now a few troops were not so happy that my Dog Teallach was going but next minute he was on the aircraft. Now the Navy are a wee bit different with animals but I was up front speaking to the crew and I was okay. The mist was well down and we had to go out to see and then 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 a scary flight in it was such thick mist and the crew did so well to get us to the beach. If you have the headphones on you can hear the crew working hard to get you there so well done the Navy. I was so glad to land on flat ground that day.
It was some great flying by the Navy that day. It was a busy few hours with 2 fatalities and one alive and then we were told to have a crash guard overnight and the troops were in the local Hotel at Castle Bay who looked after us so well. Fatalities cannot be moved until the Procurator Fiscal and AIB are happy and have gathered there evidence that is so important for Flight Safety. This is where Teallach my Dog came into his own who did the biggest stint crash guard but was rewarded with a huge meal made by the Hotel. These crash sites are not nice places but you have to preserve the site so we took it in shifts to be there Teallach was there all night. Next day he was in a room with me 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 these were crazy days. These aircraft crashes were what we were there for are our primary role as RAF Mountain Rescue. These could be tricky and dangerous places. We worked always with the Air Investigation Board (AIB) and got to know them well. Though not a difficult crash site it was remote and easily controlled. Little media or onlookers the Island folk were superb. I will be honest I did not like them, the smell of fuel and often the carnage and the twisted wreckage and I was always on guard. You had to make folk aware these were dangerous places and not to be taken lightly.
I did revisit Barra with 22 Sqn when they were training in the area and staying at Connel where the Squadron had an annual training detachment annually in the summer. I had a few hours enjoying the Island. I must get back as it is a wonderful place and take my bike this time.
From Keith Bryer – This occurred on 16 June 1984. The aircraft was a Piper PA-28R Cherokee Arrow G-AZSE. The accident investigation concluded that the pilot had disregarded the weather conditions and used incorrect overshoot procedure.