Islanders on Harris yesterday (Thurs) remembered a tragic crash 30 years ago that killed 10 airmen flying a maritime patrol aircraft from RAF Lossiemouth.
Avro Shackleton WR965 struck the top of Maodal, a hill near the village of Northton, on 30 April 1990 while attempting to land at RAF Benbecula. A memorial marks the site.
The Shackleton was the last of the fleet to be involved in a fatal accident. The weather was described as "poor" and the plane was said to have been flying at a low altitude.
A Board of Inquiry later determined the accident as a controlled flight into terrain, but could not ascertain as to why. It said that the Shackleton had its radar turned off as part of the exercise with a Tornado F3 aircraft.
The aircraft crashed 30 feet below the summit with all four engines "developing cruise power". Meteorological evidence from the day suggests that the cloud base extended from 200 feet above sea level to 3,000 feet for the tips of the clouds. The official conclusion of the board of inquiry was"...that the accident was caused because the aircraft was flown below a safe altitude in unsuitable weather conditions; the board were unable to determine the reasons for this. The crew were flying the Shackleton, which were nicknamed Old Grey Ladies, on a routine exercise.
Former leading rescue team leader Dave "Heavy" Whalley - who was a member of the RAF Mountain Rescue for 36 years - was due to attend a planned ceremony on Harris before the coronavirus lockdown made that impossible.
But Mr Whalley, who was the senior team leader at the Lockerbie Disaster - and has been involved in over 1000 mountain rescues and over 80 aircraft incidents in mountainous areas - said the Harris crash still "haunts" him. "As we neared the crash site the noise from the beacons was intense and we feared the worst," wrote Mr Whalley on his blog.
"The crash had occurred near the village of Northton on a small hill called Moadal about 800 feet above the sea. The only cloud in the whole of Scotland was over the crash site and the helicopter dropped us as near as they could to the incident.
"It was like the scene from a battlefield, a tangled mess of a once proud aircraft and the casualties, all fatal scattered around, memories that still haunt me to this day.
"At times like these even in the middle of such carnage the mountain rescue team has a job to do and we are all as professional, most of us had seen these sights before. A few shocked locals had managed to get to the crash and were relieved to see us and leave the horror of such a place. There was very little chance of any survivors."
Mr Whalley, who was the mountain rescue team leader on the incident, added:"Few spoke of what they had seen and done. It was our job.
"A few years later I revisited the crash site in Harris. The drive down was in driving rain but as we got nearer to Tarbet the weather cleared to bright sunshine and the hills had a smattering of snow. As we got nearer to the site the sun, blue seas, surf and clear sandy beaches made this a sad but beautiful place to be.
"Memories came flashing back of the accident and even the superb beauty of this special place made it a difficult wee walk. Nature has as usual sorted things out and the scars on the hill are covered by heather and peat, occasional bits of wire and small pieces of metal remain of a fairly large aircraft.<
"The memorial on the top commemorates the crew of the Shackelton “Dylan” and details of the aircraft with the words”We Will Never Forget” inscribed on a memorial on the summit.
"I have been back fairly often it is another part of my life that few understand. The views from the hill are very healing with the wildness of the area that makes this place so special and a place we should never forget.
"I will never forget what happened that day and how tragic the crash site was even to hardened mountain rescue men. The RAF Mountain Rescue Team carries out a complex job at times but I am proud of what my team did over these few days. I will never forget the wonderful help we received from the police, coastguards local doctor and these magnificent people from North Harris who treated us so well over a terribly difficult three days."
The aircraft was from 8 Sqd, a squadron that was stationed at RAF Kinloss until August 1973 when it transferred to nearby Lossiemouth.
The Shackletons were retired from service on 1 July 1991.
Photograph by Mike Freer - Touchdown-aviation - Gallery page <a rel="nofollow" class="external free" href="http://www.airliners.net/photo/UK---Air/Avro-696-Shackleton/1599437/L">http://www.airliners.net/photo/UK---Air/Avro-696-Shackleton/1599437/L</a>Photo <a rel="nofollow" class="external free" href="http://cdn-www.airliners.net/aviation-photos/photos/7/3/4/1599437.jpg">http://cdn-www.airliners.net/aviation-photos/photos/7/3/4/1599437.jpg</a>, <a href="http://www.gnu.org/licenses/old-licenses/fdl-1.2.html" title="GNU Free Documentation License 1.2">GFDL 1.2</a>, <a href="https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=26961828">Link</a>