The RAF Mountain Rescue are there to recover aircrew from crashed aircraft and also work with the Air Investigation Board (AIB) after van incident.
This can happen on any high mountainous ground after an aircraft is located can be on steep and difficult ground in the mountains especially in winter . These are the testing times.
At times like this is when the RAF teams and their leaders are under incredible pressure. It is fortunate that we lostvfew aircraft but it seemed every ten years an epic occurs this was one of them.
On the 27 November 1979 a Jaguar aircraft crashed in the Ben Lui area.
It was heading in a two ship formation for Bridge of Orchy, intending to turn west at the main glen towards Oban on the coast. Suddenly the cloud came down, and the leader told the No 2 to abort and pull up; this he did. However, on pulling out of the top of the cloud, he could not see his leader and could make no radio contact.
The two Scottish MRTs, Leuchars and Kinloss, were called out, as were several helicopters and several civilian teams, Killin, Lomond, Strathclyde and SARDA. In all over 200 searchers were involved. I was in the Team at RAF Valley in North Wales’s when this occurred. We were out for a weekend training on Cader Idris when we were called on the Cwfry Arête a climb on the mountain. We abseiled off and were told to pack up go back to Valley for a call out in Scotland.
At the time I was the full time deputy Team leader at Valley. It was the call out we had all being waiting for. We had trained for. We rushed back to be met by the team leader at RAF Valley. We had been getting updated as we drove back to RAF Valley. One can only remember what bead going through our heads. It was a quick sort out at Valley a brief. Our tram leader was Al Haveron he was a busy man.
I was also looking after the Team Leaders Search Dog Dreish with us who just sat under the seats once we boarded the Hercules aircraft. The Team Leader had been on a well deserved weekend off we did not have much time to grab our gear plus food and the Hercules aircraft took us to Prestwick for an overnight stay. We then had flights by Sea King helicopter to Crianlarich. A few troops and vechiles travelled by road in support.
The weather for most of the time was atrocious, remaining so for the whole of the search apart from one day. In the early hours the overnight parties who had been on the hill returned soaked through to the skin. They soon had hung up their wet gear from every hook and nail in the Tyndrum Hotel’s staff accommodation hut, a pattern that was to be repeated time and again over the next three days. Wet clothes were put on every day as we ran out of kit very quick. We had limited clothing with us and had to borrow from the Scottish teams. I also got extra rations dry socks and gloves brought down to us from Kinloss by an old pal Geordie Jewitt.
The aircraft wreckage was located on the nearby Beinn A Chleibh but no sign of the pilot. He had ejected but sadly was killed in the ejection and located on the nearby Ben Lui on very steep winter ground. I knew this area well from my earlier days at Kinloss but for many of the team it was the first time in Scotland but we were a strong bunch. I had huge respect fir them.
That day was another of vile conditions. All teams went on the hill it was a sad message when we heard he had been located.
The investigation Board and Doctor needed to get to the crash site and attempts were made to get the accident investigation people to the scene. Ben Lui in early winter is a serious mountain and on the short daylight in late November is a hard area to search. These are complicated mountains.
The Doctor Photographer and AIB had no experience of winter mountaineering and with their lack of climbing expertise in my mind and others should never have been put in such a situation
A few epics followed that day on very steep ground near Ben Lui and the RAF in their wisdom winched a photographer to the site not dressed for winter mountaineering. The photographer dropped his camera on scene and some where up there is still a very expensive camera!
It was an epic getting him off the hill and we had a discussion with the senior officer that sent him up! He fell coming off the hill thankfully to be held by on of our team it could have been another tragedy.
It was a sad outcome as we had learned later the pilot had ejected but suffered serious head trauma after ejection
In all a very difficult search and showed that an aircraft could still go missing even in these modern- time’s. This was made worse during this period there were no mobile phones or GPS around.
The oldest guy in the RAF teams Colin Pibworth from RAF Valley did the link on the summit of Ben Lui for 3 days mainly alone. This was in the wildest of weather as communication’s were so important as the teams were all over the nearby mountains.
Hard lessons were learned especially when dealing with senior officers with limited knowledge of rescue or recovery! A few points to note were the incredible flying by the helicopters, I still cannot say how many we got on a Wessex on one drop off, I was terrified as usual.
It was a sad Call out but a wake up for us all that aircraft still go missing. Leaving Valley with limited personal gear wearing wet gear every day taught us all huge lessons .
I only told my family that I was at Prestwick after arriving that night by Hercules they lived on Ayr a few miles away yet I never saw them.
I learned huge lessons from this incident that I used in some remote incidents later on in my 35 years in mountain rescue. This was especially true on the Isle of Harris Shackelton crash when I was Team Leader at Kinloss in Morayshire Scotland on 1990.
In 1990 A RAF Team some were deployed by aircraft another years later to assist in the Shackleton Crash in Harris in the early 90’s. I learnt lots of lessons again from this huge search and how important the civilian teams who were heavily involved were so much part of the incident.
At times the military tended to keep the information fairly tight and to get the best result you must share it as it is the casualty that counts in the end and the Teams Safety paramount.
Lots of lessons were learned for future use. We were taken to RAF Kinloss and then back to Wales in another Hercules this time the dog was in a cage on the aircraft. She was tempted in by a huge bone I got from the butcher at Kinloss. Dreish sat and ate it all the way home. The worried aircrew especially the loadmaster thought she was a wild beast yet she was a superb hill dog with a placid nature. I got one of her pups who I jammed Teallach not long after this call out. He became my companion for many years on the hill.
In memory The pilot Flt Lt Alan Graham Procter RIP
This is from the report !
226 OCU RAF
C/n / msn:
Fatalities: 1 / Occupants: 1
Written off (damaged beyond repair)
Beinn-A-Chleibh, near Dalmally, Argyllshire, Scotland – United Kingdom
RAF Lossiemouth (EGQS)
Encountered bad weather while acting as a chase aircraft. During the ‘pull up’ the pilot ejected, possibly in the belief that the aircraft was about to strike the side of a hill. It crashed on the summit of Beinn-A-Chleibh, near Dalmally, Argyllshire at 2,000 feet AMSL.
The staff pilot Flt Lt Alan Graham Procter ejected. Unfortunately, the weather made it impossible to find the crash site. When the site was located, it was discovered that the pilot had survived the ejection but his parachute had been caught by the wind, which dragged him down the mountain. During this he sustained a head trauma which rendered him unconscious. As a result he froze to death on the mountain. From the AIB report issued later.
Sad days but incredible learning for all.
In bad weather you still need boots on the ground no matter what technology is available.
Weather was really wild. Road at Cononish was snow covered and icy. Long walk out. They set up a helicopter base at Dalmally Mart.recall when first piece of small wreckage found it had a label on it in French confirming it was the Jaguar. Bill Rose
Richard / Bill Rose “ln the mid nineties l found what I thought were pieces of random meccano on Ben a Chleibh, when l was gathering sheep. I had no idea what it was until Alec explained what l had found. “
Richard Eadington “yes. It impacted hard in the boggy ground and much of it was buried.”
Peter White “Bill Rose, yep almost vertical when it impacted. “
Peter White “The first time I met Mr Whalley though he was preceded by a bit of a reputation! 😂 Phil Bransby and I spent a day at the crash site babysitting the investigation team. Interesting looking at the canopy jettison jacks that I’d fitted about 6 months earlier!
Eric Hughes, RIP, found the seat after taking a line from the crater and the canopy about half a kilometre away. “
David, correct. Chase aircraft.
Dave Tomkins “my 1st experience of you guys i was lossie mountaineering club called in to help crash guard the photographer was my cpl , they should sent me , was very bad weather and i also did radio link for 1 day that was enough cant remember how long we stayed on site but we where put up in hotel “
Dave Booth “That was an epic especially Bruce and my experience in a Wessex.”