My first working with helicopters was in 1972. I got an afternoon of to go with a few of the Kinloss Mountain Rescue Team to our local mountain Ben Rinnes. We were playing with Sarbe Beacons and testing them out. There was a helicopter homing in on it testing in these days the new technology! We had worked hard together.
Once the Sea Kings came to Lossiemouth we worked well with them and learned so much from that. When new crews arrived we often trained locally on the cliffs at Cummingston. We did lots of winching and got to know and trust the crews. There was much to learn with the Sea King it had a big downdraught but could carry so many team members on rescues. We had worked well with the Leuchars Wessex but they were based at RAF Leuchars and did lots with the local Leuchars MRT we envied there closeness. There were also lots of flights showing the new crews the area including the hit spots and Bothies.
The Royal Navy had Sea Kings at Prestwick and they were also part of the helicopter SAR cover. They were mainly used for sea incidents. Yet they like the RAF crews were a huge asset. The kit for the air crews was very poor, most had flying suits and flying boots not ideal for the mountains.
It was at RAF Valley in North Wales as the full time Mountain rescue Team Deputy Team Leader. I got to know the crews of the Wessex well. A few were active climbers. Being on the same station as the helicopter was so handy. We had daily contact with the crews and did lots of training. Wales was incredible Valley was only 30 minutes flying time from Valley. The Wessex was so impressive on the mountains and the crews knew their patch. It was amazing where they picked us up from with casualties. That’s where you learn to trust each other it was a lesson hard won.
On one busy day we had 5 call outs in winter the last for a faller high up on the hill but Pen yr Ole Wen. There was no night vision goggles then. Light was fading and we asked the helicopter if it could do one final job. The hill was covered in water ice. The winch man was dropped down, we had to look after him as he was wearing the issue flying boots.
The casualty was getting sorted when the weather changed. The helicopter had to leave to refuel and said he would be back. On refuelling the pilot was told not to go back. There was no way that was going to happen and as we were bringing the casualty and the winch man down the steep, icy hill the Wessex landed on and picked us up. It was pitch dark but the weather had cleared now.
Off course the RAF did not appreciate the disobeying of orders and the crew were sent down to Headquarters “for a debriefing”. I was called as a lowly expert and supported the crew also stating that their kit was not acceptable for the mountains. That did not go down well but I made friends for life with the crew. From then till they got gear issued we gave them kit from our Mountain Rescue Store.
I was on a shout to Goat Track Gully when both a Sea King and a Wessex turned up. The Wessex, on one of its last jobs, lifted the casualty. As it left the Sea King gave it a big bow.
I always liked the Wessex. I knew it was nonsense, but I always thought of the Wessex crews as wearing leather helmets and white silk scarves!
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I was with the Killin MRT on the day the Wessex “parked” on Ben Lui. Was it true the pilot had to return to his unit the day after? “Your helicopter is where?”
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I think it had a problem and had to get engineers in next day. It was tricky getting the crew off the hill.
We had to tie the helicopter down when the winds got up.