Lighthouse Man Tells of Chinook Fireball in Fog

Article excerpt

JOHN ARLIDGE

Scotland Correspondent

A horrific picture of the helicopter disaster in which many of Northern Ireland's leading anti-terrorist experts from the army, police and intelligence services died emerged yesterday when the official inquiry into the Chinook crash on the Mull of Kintyre opened.

Relatives of the 29 people who died in the disaster wept as eyewitnesses described the moment when the Chinook ploughed into a 1,400ft mountain in thick fog on the evening of 2 June 1994.

Local people and emergency workers who witnessed the disaster gave evidence at the fatal-accident inquiry at Paisley Sheriff Court, Strathclyde.

David Murchie, the Mull of Kintyre lighthouse-keeper, who was the first person on the scene, described how a fierce fireball erupted when the twin- rotor aircraft struck the mountain, burning bodies and blackening the heather-clad slopes.

Charred human remains and smouldering aircraft debris littered the south face of Beinn na Lice, on the tip of the peninsula.

Mr Murchie, a 56-year-old former trainee pilot and amateur helicopter enthusiast, is the only person who heard the aircraft approaching the Scottish coast on its flight from Belfast to Inverness.

He told the court that the American-made aircraft was flying normally, at cruising speed and showed no signs of distress. The Chinook was "not slowing down, speeding up, gaining height {or} altering course", he said. "There was no change in engine noise whatsoever . . . There was nothing abnormal that I could detect."

After the helicopter passed over the lighthouse, he said, "I heard a dull thud, followed by a whooshing . …