OtH 2017 – VULCAN CALL-OUT 1971

By
Simon Lloyd-Morrison

Vulcan bomber XM610 was at low level over the borders, having exited Scotland, when the fire warning light and “clangers” went off. Fire on No 1 engine. The crew shut the engine down and continued the climb away from deteriorating weather ahead. Shortly after, the fire warning for the No 2 engine came on. No 1 engine had disintegrated catastrophically and with it the fire was spreading and now out of control. It would be only a matter of time before the wing itself failed. The crew had requested an emergency diversion to RAF Leeming, but the situation was now so serious that the rear crew were ordered to bail out. Shortly after the Captain and co-pilot ejected, but not before they had turned the aircraft out to sea to crash.

In January 1971 I was the officer in charge (O i/c.) of RAF Leeming MRT. Some of the duties involved deflecting flak from the Station at the team’s misdemeanours, so it was always good to get away at weekends to climb. Of course it was Sergeant Jim West who was actually in charge. I was a pilot instructor on my first tour and had a fair amount of climbing experience since the age of thirteen. As I lived in Perthshire, weekends in my youth would invariably see me and my friends hitch-hiking to Laggangarbh Cottage in Glencoe to climb on Buachaille Etive Mor, and holidays to further afield – Skye or the Cairngorms.

When I was at Leeming there were very few “real” call-outs – the odd woman lost in high heels in the Lake District, a deceased walker on the Pennine Way, but mainly it was away at weekends to camps and bothies around the area. There was a station visit by Princess Margaret, which involved a royal loo positioned in the middle of a hangar and extensive tests with pouring water to ensure an adequate distance from the assembled company. The station “wheels” decided the station royal eyes should be averted from the station coal heap – of monstrous size in those days. So the MRT were called on to position all their vehicles at its base – a fruitless effort at disguise.

Some of the MR traditions – such as staking out the newest team member – who had spent the day over the “Bomb” to produce the evening trough – and then pouring the remnants over him – appalled me. What could I do here, obviously at my own peril? Anyhow, one day – 7th January – I believe – I was hard at work being an aircrew yob when a call came through from Pitreavie, the Northern Rescue Co-ordination Centre, stating that we might be needed. I changed into hill gear and stashed my rucksack outside the squadron while I returned to work. The boss and the other pilots were quite used to this strange behaviour and my clumping around in big boots whilst preparing to fly.

Shortly afterwards the hooter sounded and we all mustered at the section. Once there I called Pitreavie to be cryptically informed, “Proceed up the A1 and give us a call from Scotch Corner.” Of course, the dubious delights of mobile phones had not yet been invented. In fact, on reflection, it is amazing that life went on with ease despite the lack of soshull meeja. How we ever met and had social gatherings, re-unions and finally met our future spouses (or those of others) amazes me. But it all worked fine in those halcyon days. And it was a lot simpler – no passwords/usernames/memorable words for a start.

But I digress. In short order we got into the vehicles and headed north up the A1. After a while we stopped, at a post office telephone box, to be told to proceed to the grid reference of a place called “Station Town,” as a Vulcan had crashed. With some alacrity we proceeded thus to find a smoking hole in about a 200 yard grass area in the centre of the town, very near houses and the main road. This was the remains of the Vulcan bomber which, after engine failures, fire, and crew bail-out, had crashed on land, making an amazingly small hole for such a large aircraft. Fate had decreed that the aircraft had turned back to crash in the centre of the village which was just to the south of Wingate, Durham. Perhaps because of the burning wing, the aircraft had lost its steady trim out to sea and turned inland. The incredible
thing was that it had not caused any damage to the nearby buildings, school or houses. Otherwise it would have been carnage.

Anyhow the local ladies had already commandeered the local hall and were issuing tea to all and sundry. We surrounded the hole to “secure it”. Yeah right… there were a few bits of possibly classified paper to be gathered up, but that was all I remember. After a while the local press turned up for a briefing. Dressed in my breeches; my white pullover from a Greenland expedition, and sporting an ice axe, I cut a dashing military figure fully
representative of the sovereign. My rope was immaculately coiled round my shoulder as well. This being my first RAF tour, and totally wet behind the ears, I vaguely remembered reading something in DCIs (Defence Council Instructions – ok you say “what a nerd” for reading those) about “D-Notices.” With great seriousness I addressed the assembled press pack about the importance of paying attention to the “D-Notices”. To a man they all said, “What are D-Notices?” Nonplussed, all I could say was “You’ll have to talk to your editors” thereby smoothly passing the buck.

After some more invigorating cups of tea the Rocks arrived to guard the site and we returned to Leeming.

Looking back I am amazed that such an important event was passed off by us as almost ordinary. Obviously my memory may have become deluded over the past 45 years so if there is anyone from the team who was there on the day – Jim West for one (I heard from Dan Drew – RIP – that you are now in the Lake District) – who can add knowledge to the event I am assured Jim Morrison and we all would love to hear about it from you.

POSTSCRIPT

A month and a half later on I had occasion to eject from my own aircraft. As I floated pleasantly over the Yorkshire countryside north of Easingwold I went through all the parachute landing training and drills I had been taught. Despite preparing for an immaculate side-left landing, I arrived with a terrific thump on frozen ground. Gathering up my kit I wandered over to a nearby farm cottage to phone RAF Leeming ATC, to announce they were down one Airframe, Training, Jet Instruction for the Use of. Shortly after, an army chopper arrived flown by a Sergeant Pilot, who was to take me to RAF Catterick. Navigating at lowlevel, he misidentified RAF Dishforth for Leeming, until I put him right. We eventually arrived, thankfully following the A1, to land on the tennis court at Catterick. There I was greeted by a couple of nurses who took me to the medical centre, where I was plonked down amongst families of women and children. I still had my Mae-west and bone-dome and assorted paraphernalia with me but no one paid me any attention. After an eternity, a medic approached and asked what was wrong. I explained what had happened and that my back was probably cracked from the bang seat cordite cartridges. This was not a rocket seat, which would have given a smoother ride. And I had felt my back go as I was flung out the aircraft. Anyhow off we went to x-ray and then I back to join the families. After another period of waiting mayhem suddenly broke out and I was gingerly put in a wheel chair and wheeled to the ward. Yes the x-ray confirmed compression of the spine and fractured vertebrae. It was four months before I was back flying, and climbing, again. But what about our MRT – founded to rescue downed airmen? The troops were up in Scotland on a joint exercise. I heard it was too much hilarity of all that the Leeming Team had not been around to rescue their O i/c.

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