Lossiemouth SAR winchman recalls the day he rescued Elgin woman

Robyn Lean (born same year of rescue), Mark Lean (winchman on rescue) and Pat Thirkell (winch operator on rescue)

An Elgin woman was this week recalling the day ten years ago when she was rescued from a remote gully on the north-west coast of Scotland – by a man who lives in her home town!

Pat Smith was visiting the Morayvia shop in St Giles Centre this week to once again meet the man who plucked her from the cliffs at Rubha Reidh, close to the Gairloch Lighthouse.

With RAF Lossiemouth’s Sea Kings being withdrawn from service in March, she was taking a final opportunity to thank the crews for their work over the years – and at the same time join the appeal for Morayvia to obtain one of the iconic yellow rescue helicopters as the centrepiece of a permanent display in Moray.

Pat said: “It was in 2004 and we were on our way back to the car when I slipped on a rock and fell down into a stream at the bottom of a gully.

“It seemed like a very ordinary incident at the time but I could not walk or even stand, so we had to send for the emergency services. The only way to reach that spot was by helicopter – so I was very lucky in that the Sea King was working in Skye at the time and they were with us in a couple of hours.

“The winchman was Mark Lean who I learned lived in Elgin – I was later delighted to meet Mark at the RAF base with my grandchildren to personally thank him and his fellow airmen.”

Since her unexpected Sea King flight, Pat has taken a particular interest in the aircraft when she sees them flying over Moray: “I do think ‘that’s my boys!’

“I know that Mark was involved in a very dangerous rescue on Ben Nevis and that he was ultimately given a Queens Award for Bravery.”

Flight Sergeant Mark Lean remembered the rescue well, not in the least because of the unexpected surprise that the lady he was lifting that day was from his home town.

He said: “I remember quite a lot about Pat’s rescue because when she told me she was from Elgin it was a bit of a surprise having to lift a neighbour from a gully in the north west of Scotland.

“I also remember well that there was a lot of dogs running around – and that they belonged to a retired SAR force commander, who was keen to keep me right about things!”

While the Sea King is being replaced by a civilian service from April, Flt Sgt Lean was quick to point out that the expertise built by the military SAR was not being lost.

He said: “Some of us will remain in the service while a few will leave – but others will join the new civilian service at Inverness and other parts of the country.

“So there will be quite a bit of local knowledge going over to work for the civilian service so the long experience we have had as a military SAR will be taken forward into the future.”

For Pat there remains just one dream – that a Sea King will be allowed to remain in Moray as a permanent reminder of the importance of the helicopter to local people.

She said: “The Sea King being withdrawn is a very great loss to Moray as apart for carrying out all those rescues when they are not busy they have visited many local events and keep in touch with the local community.

“It is important I feel for Moray to be able to retain a link with the Sea King which has become an institution in this part of Scotland, I know that I personally will always have very fond memories of this aircraft.”

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