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To The Memory Of The Crew Of WR965 Shackelton "Dylan"

This is the sad story of this incident and the part played by the RAF Kinloss Mountain Rescue Team on the 30 April 1990 on the Isle of Harris. The team were called in to the tragic loss of Shackelton Aircraft on the Isle of Harris AEW MK2 WR965 on the 30th April 1990. It was a beautiful day at RAF Kinloss which is situated on the North East coast of Scotland. Unusually a lot of the Mountain Rescue Team had gathered in the crew room, it was busy and full of banter as the team was on a real high after a hard winter. It was lunch time when I was told on the phone by the Aeronautical Rescue Coordination Centre (ARCC) and there was a Shackelton aircraft missing from RAF Lossiemouth. It had been on a Training sortie from Lossiemouth and was last seen near Benbeculla, near the Isle of Harris on the West Coast of Scotland.

I was told a helicopter from Lossiemouth a Sea King would be at Kinloss in 10 minutes and would take 10 of my team to the area. This is called a "fast party" a quick fast response to any incident. In these circumstances 10 minutes is not long to prepare and the teams have a long established protocols to ensure we have the correct equipment to carry out any rescue. We managed to get to the aircraft pan ready for the Seaking Helicopter which landed rotors running and we were off! In an aircraft crash information is coming in all the time, from the ARCC. As The Team Leader I was getting constant updates from the aircrew and passing the information on to the team members in the back of the noisy helicopter not easy.

In any incident the helicopter flies flat out on a Rescue especially, when it is an aircraft from their station at Lossiemouth, nothing was spared. I was up with the pilots and getting all the updates on my earpiece. There are so many things going on in your head as the Team Leader and you are very busy. The flight to Harris was about 60 minutes and as we neared the last known position we were picking up the aircraft beacons in the helicopter which meant the aircraft in trouble and had crashed. Due to the remoteness of the area I spoke to my control the ARCC and asked for the rest of the RAF Kinloss team to be sent immediately to assist. As we neared the crash site the noise from the beacons was intense and we feared the worst.

The crash had occurred near the village of Northton on a small hill called Modal 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. Our first task is to ensure that all the casualties are accounted for and then to secure the crash site. All the fatalities have to be left in place as there will be a Crash Investigation Team on scene as soon as possible. Our next task is to secure the site which was still on fire and ensure there were no classified materials about. It was grim work but most of my team on the helicopter were veterans of such scenes, I had been heavily involved with the Lockerbie Disaster, we did what we had to do.

Once things were organised at the scene I walked back down to the road about half a mile from the scene. It was surreal already the locals had put a small caravan in a lay-by and the ladies had a welcome cup of tea and cakes for us. They were wonderful people with typical Highland hospitality and care, which my team would need later on. They were wonderful to my team and helped in the difficult days that we had ahead. It was the same at Lockerbie where the local people brought us kindness throughout the incidents, something I have never forgot. The cloud had cleared and this was one of the most sad but beautiful places in Scotland. The local Police were on scene along with the Coastguards and the site was secured awaiting the Board of Enquiry, no casualties could be moved until the Police and the Procurator Fiscal arrived. My team guarded the scene and took photos and mapped the site out, standard procedures for an aircraft incident. The aircraft was guarded through the night and all night the local people were so helpful to us all.

The majority of the team who were still at Kinloss were flown to Stornoway by a Jetstream belonging to VIP and by Hercules aircraft complete with our Mountain Rescue vehicles land rovers they were all on scene by 1600, an amazing piece of organisation, well done the ARCC. In the end I had 27 Team members, the 4 Tonner vehicles" arrived by Ferry the same day! Once the site had been visited later on by the Board of Enquiry the team receives permission to remove all the casualties from the scene, a hard and difficult task. This was made difficult as some of the casualties were embedded in the aircraft. After 3 days on scene we handed over the crash site to RAF Lossiemouth crash guard who were there for several weeks working with the investigation board.

Most of the team and vehicles" flew out that day from Harris in a Hercules aircraft ahead of all the casualties who were in another aircraft. We flew into Lossiemouth and drove through the camp for the short journey to Kinloss. The whole camp at Lossiemouth lined up as we drove through in convoy a very moving experience, waiting for their fallen comrades. 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. Though the hill is only small by mountaineering standards, it"s fairly steep as it starts from sea-level. 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. It faces West the inscription is getting the worse of the weather and may need replaced within the next few years. On the summit the views were immense, unsurpassed with unique Island scenery of mountains and the sea and the fresh snow enhancing everything.

Published in the Stornoway Gazette on the twentieth anniversary of the crash. May 2010.
Published in July 2010 Back in the Day issue 43. "Lest we forget"