WRECKAGE from the crashed RAF Tornado which ditched into the Minch yesterday afternoon (Thursday, January 27) has been recovered by volunteer crew members from Stornoway RNLI, writes Eilidh Whiteford.
Stornoway lifeboat, the Tom Sanderson, was launched yesterday just before 3pm after the jet’s two crew declared a Mayday and ejected from their aircraft at 2.43pm.
The Sikorsky search and rescue helicopter was called into action by Stornoway Coastguard, and crews quickly located the two airmen in separate dinghies off Gairloch, successfully winched them aboard and transferred the pilot and navigator to Raigmore Hospital. The pair suffered only minor injuries.
Stornoway RNLI, along with PoPortree RNLI and the Coastguard tug Anglian Earl, remained at the crash scene until around 5pm collecting pieces of the Tornado wreckage floating on the sea surface.
The Tornado had been heading to Stornoway Airport – which had been put on full emergency standby – before ditching in the sea.
A spokesperson for the RAF stated that a full investigation was underway into the cause of the crash, but confirmed yesterday: “The crew of a Tornado GR4 from RAF Lossiemouth have been airlifted to hospital in Inverness where they are being treated for injuries.
“They ejected from the aircraft off the south coast of Stornoway and were rescued within 15 minutes. The next of kin have been informed.
“It is too early to say what caused the incident, but a full investigation will take place.”
Today (Friday, January 28), the spokesperson added that it was hoped the jet crew would be released from hospital today.
The Stornoway Coastguard response to the incident came just hours before a public debate over the future of the full time station.
Cost-cutting plans from UK government concerning the Maritime and Coastguard Agency include slashing Scotland’s station numbers and the removal of a number of MCA emergency tugs – including the Anglian Earl based around the Western Isles.
Western Isles SNP MSP Alasdair Allan slammed the plans, commenting: “This incident could not be a more stark illustration of why so many people are calling the UK government to abandon plans to close Stornoway Coastguard stations and dispose of the emergency tug in the Minch.
“Not only did the Stornoway Coastguard acquit themselves excellently following this incident, ensuring the two RAF personnel were taken to safety, but the emergency tug was soon on the scene as well.
“If today is not a case for keeping these vital services locally, I don’t know what is.”
Westminster leader and Defence spokesperson Angus Robertson MP, who represents the aircraft’s home base at Lossiemouth – also under threat from government cutbacks – said: “Shutting up and selling off Scotland’s military and coastguard facilities is madness.
“This rescue was coordinated from a centre at Kinloss which faces closure, involved a rescue helicopter from Stornoway whose station is threatened with closure, and involved a tug boat service which is also being axed.
“It is not difficult to see what is at stake, and how serious these cuts could be in terms of emergency responses. The UK Government must think again.”