1977 – Off to RAF Buchan – 1978 The Great Blizzards.

Just as I was getting back into the mountains and I was enjoying life at RAF Kinloss. I had just returned from Iran on a big expedition, another steep learning club. Photo below.

Then out of the blue I was posted to RAF Buchan in late November 1977 on promotion in my trade Buchan is near Peterhead. I helped form a Mountaineering club and we had some great days. I still travelled back to Kinloss 2 weekends a month at my own expense to be with the RAF Kinloss Mountain Rescue Team. I was told if I did two years at Buchan I could go back to Mountain Rescue. At that time I did not drive and Buchan was a hard place to get to. It was a bus to Aberdeen train to Forres and bus to Kinloss, it would take 4 – 5 hours if it all went well.

The great Blizzards of January 1978. January – February

I was on the hill in the Mamores near Fort William as Ray Sefton the Team Leader let me come out with the Team even though I was posted away. Ray had not long taken over the team from Pete McGowan. I managed to get away by train on Friday afternoon and get to Kinloss always having to leave for the Aberdeen train first thing on a Monday morning. I was keen and it cost but I wanted to stay with the Mountain Rescue. I had just completed a huge West to East Of Scotland and was very fit and had that youthful feeling of invincibility on the hills.

Weather forecasts were  basic in these days and  yet there was a forecast of a big storm coming in but we still set off for An Gearanach in the Mamores a grand but tricky hill in winter. It was snowing very heavily when we left and the wind got up as we made our way up to the very corniced ridge and despite a white out made the summit. These were the conditions we trained for “The only all weather SAR” was the buzzword. Then all hell broke lose and it was a fight for life too get off the hill quickly descending down very steep terrain. The hills were alive with avalanches and the wind was crazy! We were very lucky to get down into the Glen when the whole side of the hill avalanched and swept down right by us.   We were lucky and several other parties all had near misses several were avalanched and even the drive out of Glen Nevis was incredible. as we fought with chains to get back to base. The radios were alive with epics going on all over and we were needed.

By now Ray Sefton who was the team Leader was at the Police station and cars  and people were stuck all over Scotland. Once he had collected his team and we were all accounted for. We were sent to the Rannoch Moor with Glencoe MRT  and rescued over 50 motorists many children and old people with no kit. Cars were buried and we had to dig them out using the big 4 tonners as refuges to transport the people to the land-rovers and safety. We had stoves on in the wagons trying to heat up the people. This was in the days before the roads had gates on them to stop motorists driving into danger.  It could and should have been a disaster but for the efforts of the Police and teams.

The next day we nearly lost a helicopter near Tulloch the Rescue Control Centre had lost communications with the aircraft. This caused incredible worry as all the helicopters were very busy on rescues all over Scotland and the weather was still wild. It  was very worrying as we were set off to find it and help the crew. We managed to drive past Roybridge and then set off in waist deep snow in places We had permission to use any houses for shelter if needed as there were a few holiday homes just passed Tulloch. It was crazy we kept swapping leads due to the depth of snow and after 2 hours we heard the noise of the helicopter and it had a wee snag and was sorted and gave us a lift back. We were so glad to see them.  We then spent 5 days attached to a fleet of helicopters based at Inverness were we were used to assist the helicopters on a stormbound Scotland. We dug lorries from the A9 under 20 feet of snow and even went to the aid of a train that was stuck up North. We fed sheep and helped remote crofters and pregnant Mums it was an incredible time for us all. It was a great learning curb how Ray Sefton handled the situation.

What a cool man and always looking to the next problem. We were so well treated and  made many few friends at Raigmore hospital in Inverness with the nurses, causing Ray a bit of a problem as the team dispensed to parties in the Nurses home. That is another story!  When it all ended I was dropped off by helicopter at RAF Buchan and was  given a bollocking by some officer who was supposed to be my Boss  for being Absent Without Leave (AWOL). Ray Sefton sorted it out and went from ” Zero to Hero” next day! It was not a rare occasion to get hassle after a call out by these so called idiots in charge of you!

In the end there were at least 50 stuck on Rannoch Moor, 25 stranded between Cluanie and Invergarry, 15 missing Fortwilliam. Climbers missing in Laggan area, a Wessex down missing for 3 hours! a busy time. Plus the missing train up North. It was in the days of limited paperwork and it was classed a one call-out.

Sadly getting back to Mountain Rescue as promised I found this was not going to happen as I was only a small gog in a big wheel. I decided after lots of thoughts to put my notice in and leave the RAF. I was travelling every week at my own expense to Kinloss and was lucky I had a good Boss who let me go. Yet my main Boss the officer who never knew me made it so hard for me I had enough of him. He worked in the Headquarters and was such a plonker.

I had phoned home and told my Mum and Dad I had enough. They tried to talk me out of it. I think they were dreading my return to Ayr. My mind was made up and I had to get out.

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 when body slows, loves the wild places.
This entry was posted in Expeditions - Alaska - Himalayas etc, Mountain rescue, Mountaineering, Views Political?, Weather, Well being. Bookmark the permalink.

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