15th December 1955

Helicopter collides with Bell Rock lighthouse

Robert Stevenson’s Bell Rock Lighthouse was put out of action when a Sycamore helicopter struck the weather vane on the top of its lantern.

The helicopter had left Leuchars at 9.35am on a sea winching exercise, intending to drop supplies to the lighthouse keepers. However, the sea and air conditions were too rough, and doing so would have been too dangerous so, instead, the decision was made to deposit them on the dome on top of the lighthouse, so the keepers could climb up and collect them.

Helicopter falls into the sea

In performing this tricky manoeuvre, the helicopter struck the dome, pulled off some sections of sheeting, and damaged the framework. The helicopter itself was compromised and it plunged 40m (130ft) into the sea.

The following day’s Dundee Courier reported that “the body of the navigator, Flight/Sergeant EF Hall, of Sevenoaks, Kent, was found. The pilot, Flight/Sergeant PA Beart, of Sheerness, is also believed dead.” The Arbroath lifeboat was dispatched to the scene, and “coxswain [Henry] Smith told the Courier on his return to port – ‘there was a heavy swell, and it took us about an hour and a half to get to the Bell Rock. The seas were breaking high over the rock and the lower half of the lighthouse was taking a beating from the waves. Although we got close in, we saw no more of the helicopter… the crew of the rescue launch took turns for three hours to administer artificial respiration to the badly injured navigator, whom they picked up two miles south of the lighthouse.’” The crew continued administering artificial respiration until a doctor arrived on another launch, but by then the patient had died.

Distress call

Reporting to Parliament on 20 December, the under-secretary of state for air, George Ward, related how “the accident was witnessed by the crew of a second helicopter who immediately sent out a distress call and flew to the scene of the crash. In response to the distress call, three Ansons, one Chipmunk and two Sycamores, as well as a Royal Air Force rescue launch and three lifeboats searched the area. The body of the navigator was recovered by the Royal Air Force launch; the body of the pilot has not yet been found and he is presumed to have been drowned when the aircraft sank.”

Although an order for repairs was made right away, they did not begin for the best part of a week and the Belfast News-Letter of 21 December reported that “workmen repairing Bell Rock lighthouse off Arbroath… radioed yesterday that vicious snow squalls were hampering them.”

Two temporary lights were lit on the rock on 22 December while work continued.



Other events that occured in December

FREE Scotland history newsletter

Don't miss our weekly update on Scotland's fascinating history. We promise never to sell your data to anyone else, and there's a super-easy unsubscribe link on the bottom of each email so you can leave whenever you want.