Tragedy of Triple Buttress, Beinn Eighe
This is the story of the Triple Buttress, Beinn Eighe, tragedy. One of the most famous features of Beinn Eighe is the corrie the “Triple Buttress Corrie” after the three large rock features, which dominate the view from the north. There are many rock climbs on the buttresses and hillwalkers can access the tops of the buttresses from the head of the corrie.
The Triple Buttress was the scene of an aviation tragedy. A post-war converted Lancaster, now operating in a maritime reconnaissance role by 120 Squadron, had taken off from RAF Kinloss on the evening of 13 March 1951 for an exercise near the Faroe Isles.
While on the return journey, the aircraft experienced atrocious and freezing weather conditions, together with a strong N’Easterly wind. The Lancaster crashed just 4.6m (15 feet) below the summit of Beinn Eighe, and at the top of the almost inaccessible Far West Gulley (‘Fuselage Gulley’), west of Triple Buttress. Unaware of the crash location, the search teams could still find no trace of the missing aircraft after two days.
At the time of the accident, a boy in Torridon had witnessed a red glow over Beinn Eighe. Believing this to be coming from one of the fishing boats on the loch, he thought nothing of it. Two days later, on hearing about the missing aircraft, he remembered what he had seen and reported it. RAF Kinloss were notified of the boy’s report together with the reports of several other witnesses who also had seen the red flash over Beinn Eighe. As a result of these reports, the RAF redirected their search efforts to the extensive ridge which included Beinn Eighe. On 16 March, an aircraft located the crashed Lancaster on the mountain and reported its position back to the ground search teams. The rescue teams arrived at the base of the mountain on 17 March and began their attempted recovery from 18 March onward. Due to the very difficult terrain and atrocious winter weather conditions, the teams could not reach the Lancaster.
Although experienced civilian mountaineers offered their services, the RAF declined their assistance initially. This was unfortunate, as—unlike today, and unlike the civilian mountaineers of that day—RAF recovery teams were not fully trained or equipped for arduous mountain rescues or recoveries. Indeed, it was as a result of this incident that the modern RAF Mountain Rescue Teams (RAF MRTs) were formed. Eventually, two Royal Marine commandos reached the crash site and located one of the bodies. A few more bodies were recovered by the end of March—two weeks after the accident. However, it was not until nearly 6 months later that the remaining bodies of the eight crew members were recovered from the site. Local Keepers and Ghillies also assisted using Garrons (horses) to evacuate the bodies from the mountain. This would be the start of the local Kinlochewe and Torridon Mountain Rescue Team.