One of my first aircraft searches was for a Missing Viscount aircraft from Glasgow airport that crashed on Ben More (Crainlarich) in the winter 19 -23 January 1973. The aircraft was on a short air test from Glasgow. The two engineers involved requested that an air test be performed so that they could examine the aircraft controls in flight. This was arranged, and later the aircraft was taken by a standby crew, led by Captain Walter Durward, on a test flight from Glasgow Airport.
The aircraft then proceeded N from Glasgow, and was about to return to the airport when it vanished. It was located two days later about 600ft NE of, and about 100ft below, the summit of Ben More (3,852ft).
Wreckage was scattered widely on the hillside and down a gulley. Some of the wreckage rolled downhill to Ben More Burn, at the western base of the mountain. This Ben More is E of Crainlarich and about 56 kms (35 miles) N of Glasgow. Poor weather conditions were prevailing at the time, with rain and heavy snow persisting.
I was a young member of the RAF Kinloss MRT it was my second winter in the team and it was an epic callout taking 2-3 days to recover the 4 casualties. I remember the wild drive from Forres in Morayshire and the Police escort from RAF Kinloss and the snowploughs on the A9 in front of the convoy. These were the days before the snow gates were put on the A9 was single track, it was a long 5-6 hour drive. We arrived in the dark for a first light callout, the weather was too bad to go out that night and we had few clues where the plane may be. The heavy snow and huge areas to search in wild conditions it made it a call-out that stayed in my mind for years. It was such a scary and long drive down in the snow and the hills were plastered with snow, it was a big winter.
Both RAF Teams Kinloss and Leuchars stayed in Lochearnhead Village Hall and there were 50 – 60 of us there. A lot of locals helped out there was no local team in the area then it was in the days of limited resources and communications. It was very tight in the village hall and the hill gear was always wet and very basic in these days.
As always all the teams worked well together and the locals could not do enough for the team during such a tragic event. Lots of people searching for people they never knew was an incredible feeling.
I remember information was vague no one had heard much but we had a few ideas from people who phoned the Police and thought they had heard or seen something. In the early morning we had a briefing in the Hall By “Taff Tunnah ” the RAF Leuchars Team Leader. George Bruce was our Team Leader and he was speaking to the Police and getting and trying to sort out the reports from the public.
I have a photo of this that was used in the press of the briefing on that first day, we were very young. see below:
On the first day I had an awful day searching in the Trossachs in the area between Glen Gyle ( West Loch Katrine )and the Balquidder Glen, with the late John Hinde in charge a MRT Legend. The plan originally was for the teams to split into 5 groups to search the main ridges as this is high priority on a aircraft search with limited information. The team had a capability of splitting into smaller groups of two with a radio in each party. In the event the snow was very deep knee deep in places with very strong SE winds and clouds above 1500 feet and we stayed together for the whole long day.
I have recollections that this became a survival Exercise on and off the hill, the Snow chains and shovels were essential as were the land rovers to get to the road heads and snow shoes would have been invaluable. My memory of the first day that it was along hill day even after 40 years’ experience on rescues on the hills in winter this was a hard callout. Teams had no clue where the aircraft had crashed and covered as much ground as possible in the conditions.
On the first day of the Search RAF Leuchars MRT found pieces of wreckage from the Viscount very early in the day a few miles from Ben More Farm. This was from one of the RAF Leuchars Team Steve Brooks – “Just checked my diary, it was around 6pm when Leuchars arrived having had a puncture on 3 tonne truck along way. It was 10:00am next day at 1500′ that documents from the aircraft were found on Ben More, think it was John Couls group, the search was then more concentrated and by evening more wreckage had been found along with 2 seats and 4 casualties” Most of the RAF Kinloss team were not recalled and completed their search area in desperate weather.
Communications were very poor in these days, no mobile phones and we just kept going, In a Rescue you always hope to find people alive but it is very rare in an aircraft crash in the mountains. I was exhausted when we got back soaked to the Village Hall where we were updated. The others had moved into the area along with some SAS troops and a civilian party had an even worse day “in desperate conditions” ( these were words rarely used by George Bruce and Taff Tonner the Team Leaders) Small parts of wreckage and papers from the aircraft were found as was the four bodies of the crew.
The snow was falling very heavily and they did not have a easy time, the avalanche risk would be very high in the Corrie and it was going to be a difficult recovery of all the casualties. The weather was very bad and the teams had to pull out as darkness and conditions had got even worse, the crew sadly had to be left in situ on the hill. They had died instantly and the crash was not survivable.
We arrived back at the Hall and got ready for the next day, it had been a long hard day and there was more to come!
After a hard day on the hill the Viscount aircraft and crew had been located and due to the wild weather they were left in situ until next day.
Day 2 – Weather Sunday 21 Jan 1973 – weather fresh snow and cloud down to 2000 feet a steady wind and wind – chill.
It was a long night in the Village Hall with everyone busy planning next day’s recovery of the crew. As a very inexperienced young troop I was told I was on the body recovery next day, I hardly slept. RAF Kinloss and RAF Leuchars divided each team up into recovery and search parties. It was along haul up the hill with carrying ropes and Stretchers in deep snow to a height of 2800 feet. I was in a long line that left from Ben More Farm in the morning; it was heavy going with big sacks. The weather was misty above 200 feet and still very cold. The rest of the teams and 23 regiment SAS carried out a search for aircraft wreckage further up the very steep West Face of Ben More. They searched at 15 yard intervals up and down the face not easy in the conditions.This was fairly serious ground to search and the teams worked hard.
The Black box Flight recorder was located by them about 150 yards north of the summit by the SAS. A rough map was drawn after the search, which I still have a copy.
When we located the casualties we had first to relocate them in the heavy snow that had fallen overnight and I remember helping digging them out, not easy for a young lad. In these days it was the young lads who were used to handle and dig out the casualties a hard and difficult job I remember it well.
It was a steep learning curb but these were real people, husbands, fathers, sons and we had difficult job to do. It was very hard work digging and removing them from the deep snow we put them each on the Stretchers and they were taken off down the hill by us.
It was a sad job getting the stretcher ready with one of the casualties in the deep snow. A hard day for all concerned.
In the deep snow but we used the stretcher skids to good effect to help move the stretcher down the hill and a couple of ropes to ensure they moved swiftly but safely. It was all a steep learning curb for me and my mate Tom MacDonald and the younger member’s of the teams. We were soon down in the Glen and the BEA helicopter lifted them out. It was then back to the Village Hall, for some food no showers available kit now completely soaked and we were running out of dry gear. I can still remember how strange I felt but positive that I had done my best.
Day 3 Monday 22 Jan 1973
Weather – Freezing level 2000 feet, cloud base 2800 rising later Wind strong westerly decreasing later.
The next day after a briefing it was back up the hill to the main wreckage and digging around the cockpit area and other wreckage. Various sweep searches were carried out and parties were lifted in three’s by the BEA helicopter.
A Joint pair of parties from Kinloss and Leuchars climbed all the Gullies on the SE Face of Ben More locating no wreckage. More searching was carried out on the NE Ridge and SE Face of ben More to the summit. On the summit assistance was given to the Ministry Air Investigation Officer sweep searching in heavy snow. The lowest wreckage was located a fuel tank and the rest was thrown Westward across the summit ridge and down the West Face. It was another long day and I was glad to be off the hill.
The next day we traveled back to RAF Kinloss and I received a “bollocking” from my Boss in my workplace for being away so long, that upset me deeply. I was very lucky as George Bruce my Team Leader went and saw him and told him in a “few words” what we had experienced but I was a marked man after that by my Boss, such is life.
I had learned so much from this sad incident it was to teach me in future years as a RAF MR Team Leader. George Bruce, John Hinde and Taff Tunnah who are now sadly gone discussed this call – out with me a many years ago and the lessons learned.
They were real characters, different people entirely but led strong teams and knew what they were doing. One of the key points from this tragedy was getting the correct information as members of the public respond to the media who were asking for help or sightings of the aircraft. To get the right information to the searchers is very hard to do and I am sure that the local shepherd on the hill had notified the Police of seeing/ hearing something on Ben More at the time the aircraft went missing. The crew unfortunately died instantly but this information amongst many pieces on the day from all over the area. It is very hard to sort out the correct witness information. George, Taff and John Hinde taught me so much over the years especially about missing aircraft searches and recovery of crew and information about the crash. I dedicate this article to them and the crew of the Viscount Aircraft that sadly lost their lives.
In the summer of 1973 when the snow had gone a few of the RAF Kinloss Team went up to the crash site and found a few personal bits and pieces of the crews belongings. They were returned to the family.
2005 January 19 – David Whittick, engineer Bob Elrick and Wally‘s son Mike organised a Memorial service for all the crew of the Viscount, and held, a service at, Crianlarich Church on January 19th 2005 to dedicate an inscribed cairn, which has been installed in the churchyard in memory of the crew. The service was attended by more than seventy ex-colleagues and family members, who subsequently retired to the local village hall to exchange some memories and to enjoy some Scottish hospitality .
There is a memorial to the crew in the churchyard at Crainlarich which I went in the anniversary of the crash.. Meeting the family and locals friends who lost their lives is a humbling experience for all and how they appreciate what all the teams did to try to find their loved ones. All these years later it still has a huge effect on many.
It is worth noting that in another very hard winter of 1987 I was heavily involved in a RAF Wessex helicopter crash on Ben More. Sadly a good friend Harry the Team Leader of Killin Mountain Rescue Team was killed and two good friends very badly injured. After the rescue as a Qualified Team Leader I led the Air Investigation Branch( AIB) for a week on the search on the Steep NE face of the mountain. This was a difficult task as it was full winter conditions and a big AIB Team to look after on winter climbing terrain. We were on the mountain for 5 days with the team. None of the AIB were mountaineers and we had a huge task looking after them safely and helping locate the first impact point on a steep winter cliff. It is never easy as these teams of experts are just wanting to get on with their job but in a hostile environment this can be not easy to try to keep them safe to do their job! The RAF teams have many aircraft engineers and their aircraft knowledge is invaluable locating and identifying wreckage for the ongoing inquiry. This was a where many lessons from the past from my early days in 1973 were well used on this tragic accident in the mountains. Many forget that this was the primary task of the RAF MRT the search and recovery of missing aircraft in remote and mountainous regions. Every few years an aircraft goes missing and the lessons of the past are worth remembering, you can learn much from past incidents and even with today’s technology it still needs boots on the ground in bad weather and the correct skills both of an on the hill to get the job done. It is always worth remembering this.
This is from a past blog in 2018
“Yesterday was a great day as I was planning a hill at last. I stopped at Elma’s in Crianlarich early and dropped of the usual-food parcel. Elma has been a true friend of RAF MRT for 40 years. Her son Derek was in the RAF Kinloss Team and sadly died of cancer. Elma has always been a real star and looks after all the Mountain Rescue Teams for so many years. I had some great pancakes, scones and tea and headed off to meet a group from the Inverclyde Ramblers just outside Crianlarich. They were a varied group lovely folk who like the wild places. For a few it was there first Munro Ben More so it would be an interesting day. In my Mountain Rescue days we often used Ben More to assess fitness not stopping at all till the summit it blew a few minds. We were fit and young and so competitive .
They arrived just before 1000 and we parked near Ben More Farm. There were 10 of us going to hopefully climb the hill! The forecast was pretty wild later in the day with heavy rain and 30 – 40 knots winds. A big change from the recent weather.
I had been asked by Sadie Smart to come with them as her father sadly lost his life on a plane crash on Ben More in Jan 1973. It was my first place crash and involved a huge search for 3 days filled located the plane a Viscount from Glasgow airport that was on an air test with 4 crew. I have written in other blogs of this search the long days in deep
Snow and the eventual recovery of all 4 casualties again in wild winter weather. This incident made a huge impact on me as a young man. Ben More was also
to be the scene of another crash of a Wessex helicopter when the local
Killin Team Leader was killed as the helicopter hit the mountain on a search in the winter of 1987. As I said this is a poignant mountain to me and I had worked on many call – outs over the years with the local Killin Team. Sadie had been in touch over the years and we managed to get together to show her this mountain. It would be a testing day and every year I get requests and feedback for families to go to where they lost their loved ones it is never easy. Her Dad was Jimmy Moore one of the engineers on board.
Ben More is huge hill the highest in the area at 3700 feet . It is a huge pull up from the farm and according to “Walk Highlands is relentlessly steep” I think we all agree over the years on that and we had a group of 10 with us for a few it was their first Munro.
The forecast had some varying weather with torrential rain at times and very gusty winds forecast later in the day. We may be tested on the summit ridge later on. From leaving the track after about 20 minutes you are on the hill-path. From here it is open slopes full of steep wet grass and so many wild flowers enjoying the rain of the last few days. The path is fairly battered by many feet over the years and the dry spell and heavy rain have eroded it. We took it easy with a big group and the steepness.
It is hard at times to get a pace but as the day wore on we got higher. The mist came in and views shut and opened like a curtain. Familiar hills popped up from the clouds and the views expanded. There are some great hills on this area many underated from the popular Glencoe hills further up the road. Any summit here is hard won and the path seems as always goes on and on.
As you go higher you look into the Corrie on Meall Daimph where we recovered the casualties of the Viscount aircraft in 1973. It can be a dark foreboding place and in heavy snow dangerous. Sadie wanted to know how we brought her Dad down and the crew of the mountain. I explained there was a big Avalanche risk and we contoured high into the Corrie. It was extremely hard work digging and recovering the crew and taking them down off the hill. The search had involved three days by several teams Police and Dogs I remember the deep snow and the long 12 hour days.
Sadie was so brave as she listened and it is hard to try and explain but she wanted to know . My memory of these tragedies is clear as I wrote a diary every day. It is so sad that the aircraft hit the top of the ridge steep ground in summer but in a full winter steep and very treacherous ground. As we neared the summit after 3 hours of walking the weather came in. We had torrential rain and very strong winds it was not summer now. Hoods were up and it was a relentless pull to the top.
We had a few minutes reflection and a minutes silence for Sadie her Dad Jimmy and for the Killin Team Leader Harry Lawrie he had died in a Helicopter crash on a call – out in 1987. For me and Sadie it was a moving moment and very poignant. Sadie was so strong this was her first visit to the Munro but there was little time to stop and sadly just swirling mist the weather was now full on!
My plan was to head back as I had a meeting about filming tomorrow but headed down to the beleach with the group. As it does nature came in with more torrential rain a big gusts and the rocky ground was slippy! It became serious so quickly and we gathered the group. It was a quick briefing on short steps in the wind and being aware of the wind power at times linking together in the gust that were now 40 knots plus! There were bags to sort out Gloves and hats to get out and to try and take breaks out of the wind. There was the constant regrouping in the mist check all are together and all learned something. I was in my shorts but being fat and stocky this is my weather even though I had not been out since I broke my ribs. It was constant check of the map to ensure we were on the right descent simple skills but in poor weather essential.
It became cold the mist was in but I was on familiar territory and we got down to the beleach where we headed down into the Glen out of the wind. The group were all fine and all enjoyed the hill they had some day in all weather. I hope for some it was a good introduction. I left the group after a few hugs and followed the track lower down back to the bottom of the hill at
Ben More Farm. The sun was out and the extra layers off I was soaked but glad we had a moving day with some special folk. The Glen walk was refreshing in the sun the battle from the summit over time to relax in a place of great beauty among the hills I love. At times words fail you there was even a rainbow. It was back to the van a quick change and head up the A82. The road was busy and I had time for a shower before my chat about tomorrow’s filming after a great meal in the 4 Seasons restaurant with Cameron MacNeish Richard Else and Paul Tatershill old pals.
It had been some day lots of emotion and memories and the nature keeping us in our place . I am always amazed by the power of nature and today it was a reminder what and how a day can change . I was glad I had spare gear to put on in the wild weather and hard to believe how cold it was.
Thank you Sadie and the Inverclyde Ramblers for a great day. I hope that all those who came out for there first Munro enjoyed the battle. Your company was what the wild places is all about and that you enjoy further adventures. Sadie thanks for the honour of being with you your Dad Jimmy would be proud and his hankie you waved in the wild wind at the top was was lovely tribute.
This blog is dedicated cared to the crew of the Viscount aircraft that crashed on Ben More in 1973 and to Harry Lawrie the Killin Mountain Rescue Team Leader who was killed on a Rescue in 1987.
Also to all those Mountain Rescue teams and Agencies who go out to assist those in trouble . There are still so many great folk about. Sadly we forget this !
Heavy Whalley July 2018
Dedicated to the crew of the BEA Viscount