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Mountain rescue expert recalls Ben More helicopter crash 30 years on

Dave "Heavy" Whalley on the summit of Ben Nevis in 2000.
Dave "Heavy" Whalley on the summit of Ben Nevis in 2000.

The man in charge of rescue operations after the Lockerbie atrocity has told how one of Scotland’s worst mountain rescue tragedies helped him cope with the disaster.

Thirty years ago Dave “Heavy” Whalley watched in horror as an RAF helicopter tasked with rescuing a fallen climber on Ben More, near Crianlarich, crashed into the hillside.

The aircraft spun around before careering down the snowy hillside towards the members of Killin Mountain Rescue already on the mountain.

Their team leader Harry Lawrie, who had been on the Wessex helicopter, was killed while another of their number, Ian Ramsay, was badly injured.

Harry Lawrie died in the crash.
Harry Lawrie died in the crash.

Mr Whalley, who was part of RAF Leuchars Mountain Rescue Team at the time, said witnessing the crash was “like a film”.

He said: “We had been training at Tyndrum and we were heading back when the helicopter came over our convoy and said there was a call out at Ben More, someone had fallen and the team needed our help.

“It went off to the hill, landed to pick someone up and the next thing we saw was it hit the hill. We watched it happen as we were driving – it was like a film.

“Harry was being picked up by the helicopter to look higher up. When the helicopter hit the hill it came flying down towards all the Killin guys and burst into flames. They dragged everyone out but Harry was killed.

“There was nothing left of the helicopter – it burnt in minutes.”

The burnt out wreckage of the helicopter.
The burnt out wreckage of the helicopter.

Another helicopter was brought in to airlift Ian Ramsay and the winchman, who was also badly injured, to hospital, while members of the Killin team began walking down the hill carrying Harry.

 

The wreckage of the helicopter lies in the snow.
The wreckage of the helicopter lies in the snow.

“It was hugely poignant,” said Mr Whalley. “Imagine the state they were in. But we still hadn’t found the girl who had fallen and the next morning at first light they were all up there looking for her. I was not expecting anybody from Killin but they were all there – it was phenomenal.”

After finding the climber, who had also died, the mountain rescue team spent days helping investigators piece together what had happened when the helicopter crashed.

Less than two years later Mr Whalley was put in charge of the mountain rescue operation when Pan Am flight 103 exploded over Lockerbie in December 1988.

1987-wessrx-tail-ben-more

He said: “I became a team leader not long after that (the Ben More crash) and I went and ran Lockerbie.

“There was a big media presence (at Ben More) but by the time of Lockerbie Sky TV was there, there was satellite comms and mobile phones – it was completely different. I hate to say it but we learned so much from the (Ben More) incident that it gave us an idea of what we were doing.

“It was a day we will never forget.”

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