Tragedy and how it effects the community.

I have been writing about the Shackelton Crash in Harris and received so many kind comments from the families who lost loved ones. There has been superb comments from others who were involved with the Rescue Agencies. Many are heartfelt but I also have some incredible thoughts by the community who lived nearby. Once the casualties are recovered and the Enquiry finished the local folk have to carry on with life. This was true on the Shackleton crash in 1990. The aircraft crashed on a small hill called Maodal not far of the main road. It was near a small village of Northton who were incredibly involved in the sad events. It is rare to get feedback by the local folk who were exceptional in all they did. They helped us the Mountain Rescue team from RAF Kinloss that I was the team leader. This is part of their story that was printed in their local newsletter. It gives several accounts of what the local folk dealt with on that fateful day. I have been given the honour to share their accounts through my blog. It made me think of every time we arrived at a tragic crash how the local folk responded to the team and how they helped us all. This was especially true at the Shackleton Crash.

This is from the local newsletter that I was able to use and I wrote a piece for and was planning to go to Harris to see them on the 30 th Anniversary. It is incredible to get the names of the folk who helped after all these years as at the time you are so involved in the task in hand.

The Harris Community Newsletter thank you for allowing me to use your articles.

An event like this, quite out of the blue, is not something one can easily forget. Such a tragic event brings out the best in people and in less than a day I’d had a great lesson in public spiritlness and generosity. As I write, I cast my mind back to Heavy Whalley and his mountain rescue team, all volunteers ready to put aside their daily routine to do a demanding, stomach-churning job, at a moment’s notice. And I think of Tina Macleod, the Reverend Stewart and their many fellow villagers also ready to help out a group of strangers doing a difficult job. Every 5 years since the accident, I have made my own ‘pilgrimage’ to the Isle of Harris to commemorate, in my own way, the event of 30th April 1990. And it is always a pleasure to meet up with and to talk to the local folk. It is sad that we’re unable to meet this 30th of April, especially when so many people were keen to travel to Harris to commemorate the 30th Anniversary. But times are hard, with this very unexpected pandemic putting a stop to normal movement. As it states on the bronze plaque, built into a granite cairn placed at the site near the summit of Maodal– ‘we will never forget’. I hope that as soon as the current COVID-19 crisis passes, we will reinvigorate our visit. ‘ As I am sure most of you will remember there were a number of locals up on the hillside on that fateful day, here is what some of them had to say

I am sure a number of our readers will know that members of RAF Waddington Squadron 8 were planning on coming up to Harris to mark the 30 year anniversary of the Shackleton crash, given the current coronavirus pandemic and the UK lock down these plans had to be postponed. It was hoped to have a short memorial service followed by tea coffee, cake etc afterwards. All these plans are not cancelled just postponed until later in the year, once we get the go ahead and plans are finalised we will have all the information available in a De tha Dol (local news letter)nearer the time.

Wing Commander Vicky Williams OC8 Squadron sent over this brief statement, ‘On the morning of the 30th April 1990, a Shackleton, callsign Gambia 08, struck ground at Maodal on the Isle of Harris, with the tragic loss of all 10 on board. To mark the 30th anniversary of the accident, personnel from RAF Waddington (the current home of 8 Squadron) had planned to travel to Harris and hold a Memorial Service. This visit would not only allow current Squadron personnel to pay their respects to the men who lost their lives that day, but to also re-connect with the local community who were also deeply affected by this tragedy. Although 30 years has passed, during the planning of this visit, it has become hugely apparent that the memories of that day are still vivid, particularly amongst the first locals on the scene. 8 Squadron will always have an affiliation to all those from Northton, Harris and the surrounding area, inexplicably linked by this tragic accident. And as it states on the bronze plaque, built into a granite cairn placed at the site near the summit of Maodal– ‘we will never forget’. I hope that as soon as the current COVID-19 crisis passes, we will reinvigorate our visit. ‘ As I am sure most of you will remember there were a number of locals up on the hillside on that fateful day, here is what some of them had to say.

HM Coastguard Leverburgh CRC:

On reaching the crash site my immediate task was to establish a radio link between Stornoway MRSC; the Coastguard helicopter; the RAF; and the Police, until an RAF Nimrod eventually arrived on scene to coordinate the whole operation. The CRC members carried out a search of the whole site and generally helped in the various tasks required. Afterwards, I received a personal letter from the Chief Coastguard, Commander Derek Ancona, as follows: “I am writing to offer my congratulations to you and the members of Leverburgh CRC for your part in the incident on 30 April 1990 involving a crashed Shackleton at Maodal, Isle of Harris.” He then goes on to describe the work we carried out that day, and concludes with: “I would wish to take this opportunity to commend the members of the Leverburgh Company for a job well done in the highest traditions of the Service.”

John MacAulay, Coastguard:

I remember I got the call around 12-ish & was told it was a light aircraft on the beach in Northton, unknown to us that it was an RAF plane, we geared up & headed down to the beach, once there we were wondering what was happening until we were told to head up the side of the hill & not 2 touch any papers that were all over the hillside, when we reached half way up we knew that something was seriously wrong after seeing bits of plane all over the place! It’s a sight that is burned into my memory which I will never forget & hope never to see again, the utter destruction ahead of us was horrendous & no words could express how we were feeling at seeing this, I think the silence said it all at the time, as an auxiliary coastguard at the time my colleagues & I tried to do the best job that we could do for the 10 men that perished in such a tragic accident.

Alice MacLennan, Coastguard:

30th April 1990 was a calm sunny day. That Monday morning I driving the minibus, collecting the children and taking them to school at Seilebost. As we were nearing Horgabost we spotted a plane flying west above the Sound of Taransay. I pulled into a lay-by and we watched it, identified it as a Shackleton and speculated where it was going. Later that morning, PC George Smith phoned the house to say that a loud explosion was heard in the Northton area, urgently requesting my assistance. The police car picked me up from the house. The Maodal was covered in a blanket of cloud and thick black smoke was leaking out from under it. As PC G Smith, PC A Henderson and I climbed up the Moadal, the mist gradually lifted. After an hour it was established that that nine casualties had been accounted for. Willie Maclean and I were asked to walk round the back of the hill to look for a missing casualty. After a while a helicopter appeared and signalled for us to go back as they had found the tenth person, by that time the RAF personnel had arrived at the scene and took overall command.

We assisted them to secure the site and for next few day access to the site was closely monitored by Police Officers until all wreckage had been removed. Later that same afternoon, when I collected the children to take them home from school they were all very quiet and asking if it was the plane they had seen that morning that had crashed.

Angus John MacVicar, Scarist : I was travelling back from Tarbert when I heard about the crash, on arrival back at Leverburgh Flora M. MacLeod, Leverburgh and myself took an urn, tea, coffee etc up to Scarista to provide refreshments to those coming down off the hill. We supplied the ones who were on watch through the night with sandwiches and hot drinks all of which was supplied by local shops. I travelled to Lossiemouth to the service along with others from Harris, we were made to feel very welcome while we were there.

Tina MacLeod, Rodel:. Around noon on Monday 30th April 1990 I received a message on my pager – it was before the days of mobile phones – that a plane had crashed near Northton. There were no further details available and so I had no idea what I would be facing. I had just paid for petrol at John Mackay’s in Horgabost when I got the message. I arrived at the scene to find the top of Maodal shrouded in mist. Our local Ambulanceman, the late Domhnall Mhor from Northton, was at the roadside. In addition an off duty Police officer from Tarbert along with the GP Trainee from the Tarbert surgery – they had been playing golf at Scarista. We ascended the hill from the Scarista side and soon came across pieces of aircraft debris scattered over the hillside ranging from large pieces of metal – propellers and pieces of engine – to pots of coffee and biscuits from the galley. There was an over powering smell of fuel all around. I then started to come across the remains of the crew of the aircraft. I had to formally confirm, with the police officers on the hillside, that all ten crew had lost their lives following the sudden impact of the plane against the hill. I was subsequently taken off the hill by the coastguard helicopter which had arrived on the scene.

We woke the following morning to a calm, sunny Spring day and the enormity of what had happened the previous day began to sink in. It was certainly not something I thought I would have had to deal with when I started work as the local GP only six months before. There was considerable activity at the crash scene over the coming days and the local community gave much practical support and help to the team carrying out the investigation. A service was held in the Free Church at which the late Rev Kenneth Stewart preached most earnestly on the shortest verse in the Bible – John 11 v35, “Jesus wept”. The church was full to overflowing with members of the local community along with many of the RAF personnel – the fact that many of them were young and so of a similar age to those lost in the tragedy added to the solemnity of the act of worship.

The surgery was presented with a crest from VIII Squadron and the sight, on a clear day, of the cairn erected by Neil Campbell on the summit of Maodal acts as a further reminder of the tragic event that occurred 30 years ago this month. Dr A. Naylor.

In memory of Shackleton crew Dylan who perished in the crash.

Wing Commander Stephen Roncoroni

Wing Commander Chas Wrighton

Flying Officer Colin Burns

Squadron Leader Jerry Lane

Flight Lieutenant Al Campbell

Flight Lieutenant Keith Forbes

 Master Air Electronics Operator Roger Scutt

 Flight Sergeant Rick Ricketts

Sergeant Graham Miller

Corporal Stuart Bolton

Thank you all for your input, I hope to see you all when things open up again. David Whalley.

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, Articles, Friends, Mountain rescue, People, PTSD. Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Tragedy and how it effects the community.

  1. Phil Paterson says:

    Thank you Heavy for your very moving reflections on the 1990 Shackleton air crash on Harris. It make us realise what is involved in attending the scene of these events and more appreciative than ever of the volunteers of the Mountain Rescue Teams, like yourself. It also, naturally, made me think of my father’s plane crash in the Cairngorms in 1944 and of our visit to the crash site in 2015, for which I cannot thank you enough.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you Phil the piece seemed to be appreciated by Ted relatives. It also gave a bit of information on the difficulties at such a scene.
      It was great that so many contacted me and thanked the team for their efforts.

      Our day with you and the boys was so rewarding.
      Take care and stay safe
      Regards to all


  2. colin Hutt says:

    Hi again heavy
    Contacted you a few years ago about el alamein being patched up and you managed to source the information . Need your help again went for walk yesterday from grantown over to achnahannet behind dulnain bridge with family. We walked to the wee summit of cam sgriob 975302. We walked from easter ryneckra up to the cairn to see 2 parts of plane wreckage , they look like engine parts . I found them years ago and my daughter spotted another piece on the way to summit. On the way back down we went to have a look and it looks like part of a wing . Amazingly we found some serial numbers inscribed on it LR7544/3 and ASSY NO B.L 13849 SERIAL NO R.W 1156 MOD 566 BRO 320 . I have scoured for information but to no avail . I seem to recall when I found it years ago nobody in the area was aware of it . Thought it was time to try and find out at last. Hoping you can help again and can only presume that it is military because of the MOD in the inscription.

    Colin Hutt

    Photos taken if required can be forwarded.


  3. 05-APR-1953
    Time: day
    Type: Silhouette image of generic F86 model; specific model in this crash may look slightly different
    Canadair Sabre F4 (F-86E)
    Owner/operator: 147 Squadron Royal Air Force (147 Sqn RAF)
    Registration: XB610
    C/n / msn: 413
    Fatalities: Fatalities: 1 / Occupants: 1
    Other fatalities: 0
    Aircraft damage: Written off (damaged beyond repair)
    Location: Glen Gheallaidh Burn, 7 miles NE of Grantown-on-Spey, Morayshire – United Kingdom
    Phase: En route
    Nature: Ferry/positioning
    Departure airport: RAF Kinloss, Morayshire
    Destination airport: RAF Abingdon, Oxfordshire
    Ex RCAF 19513; Diverted to RAF before RCAF serial marked, became XB610 with RAF. First flight as such on 17/12/1952. Delivered (taken on charge by the RAF) 16/3/53. Written off (destroyed) 5/4/53: Dived into the ground at high speed seven miles North East of Grantown-On-Spey, Morayshire after suffering instrument failure shortly after take off from Kinloss. The aircraft had been on delivery from Canada to the RAF – an operation codenamed “Operation Bechers Brook”

    Crashed at Glen Gheallaidh Burn, seven miles North East of Grantown-on-Spey, Morayshire after suffering instrument failure shortly after take off. Artificial horizon failed during climb into clouds, pilot continued climb, lost control, and crashed into high ground.

    Nothing further was heard from this aircraft and after a search, a deep crater was found. Pilot – Squadron Leader Michael James Burke Cole DFC (Service Number 156033, aged 31) – killed.

    1. Halley, James (1999) Broken Wings – Post-War Royal Air Force Accidents Tunbridge Wells: Air-Britain (Historians) Ltd. p.143 ISBN 0-85130-290-4.
    2. Royal Air Force Aircraft XA100-XZ999 (James J Halley, Air Britain, 2001 p 10)
    3. Last Take-off by Colin Cummings p 358


  4. 37- 4/53 06/04/53 Dava Moor
    Burn of Glen Chealaidh 28/108410 RCAF Sabre Aircraft crash. Fatal.1
    Kinloss Call outs i would love to see any photos please hope this helps?


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