After the call out on Ben Nevis I was put on shift for the whole weekend and no break at all. Then ten days later the team was called out to an aircraft crash near Dornie at Kintail. This is what the team was about and we were alerted just after lunch on the 12 Sept 1972. Information in these days was very scant; no mobile phones all updates were given on the move by High Frequency communications in our converted land rover Control wagon. It was a blue light drive terrifying to Dornie where we were met by the Police. A Harriers GR1 XV 799 had crashed, killing the pilot.
A Royal Navy helicopter were called and took the casualty away from the scene but we had to do crash guard and search the area. This was my first aircraft crash, I could not believe that there was so little left of a huge aircraft, just a smouldering hole in the ground. It was a horrible job that i was to do on many occasions the smells of an aircraft crash stay with you as does picking up human remains.
When an aircraft hits the ground at 300 – 400 mph there can be little left but pieces of jagged metal, spread over a wide area. In addition many of these sites are very dangerous and only a few of the team were used to search the area. They located several items including a phial of morphine from a first aid kit on the aircraft. The team stayed until the Navy Salvage team arrived and handed over. In the meantime the area was secured with the help of the Police and sketch maps and photos were taken to assist the Board Of Enquiry. As the area was fairly low down the team were released back from the incident and drove back to Kinloss, where I was in for trouble!
My boss told me on my return next day that I was to be disciplined for disobeying an order and going on the callout. I tried to explain that it was a Military aircraft and that was our job. The pilot killed was RAF, who we had been told was going to be the new Station Commander at Lossiemouth. He was having none of it, I was in trouble!
This is where George my team leader came into his own and was down at my Bosses office and sorted it. George was magnificent; he pulled no punches and put his career on the line for me. My Boss was not happy but all the charges were dropped, though he told me my card was marked. He did manage to stop my promotion to Senior Air craftsman for 6 months which cost me a lot of cash. I was told that my “head was in the clouds” when he wrote my annual assessment. I thought that quote was a badge of honour to me and said nothing and accepted what he said. I worked with two civilian ladies in the Office they took me under their wing and I became a bit of a celebrity on my section, such is life.
They loved the stories of the weekends and the motherly instincts came in looking after me and repairing my battered mountain kit. Maybe my career was over in the RAF, I would do my job as best I could but I wanted to get out on the mountains as much as possible, before I left in 4 years’ time!
Looking back some of these were very traumatic times for me. In these days we never spoke about it though I had a few nightmares. Also my skin broke out in a red rash; it got worse and was bleeding whilst on the hill. It spread all over my body it was so embarrassing I had to cover it up all the time.
The RAF doctors diagnosed it as Psoriasis and it got that bad I was taken into hospital in Inverness. I was covered in tar products and bandages it was a traumatic time. I had never had this or any experience of it and it was a problem that would continue all my life. Serious trauma definitely brought it on; it took over 30 years to work that out.
George Bruce the Team Leader left in June 1973 it was a sad day he went to run the Outdoor Activities Centre at Grantown On Spey and the team was taken over by Steve Reeves. I stayed in touch with George all through my life, he was always there if I needed him and visited me at Kinloss fairly often, I learned from how he treated folk especially the keepers and Police. How he stuck up for his team when needed and could sort you out with a few cutting words.
Steve was different type of leader and just back from Hong Kong as the Team leader there. It is never easy taking over from such a leader such as George but slowly Steve made his influence felt on the team. This was not easy and a few of the senior members made life difficult for him. Steve had a different approach from George but did well in the end, it is very difficult to control a team made up of 90% volunteers as I was to learn. Steve taught me in the end that fitness was only part of the game and you had to look after the guys with you, not be first to the top I learned this lesson when he failed me as a Party Leader in the team for running off on the hill. A hard lesson well learnt, this put me back for a while but I was young and cocky!
Different leaders teach you so many things.