AN INVESTIGATION is undeway after a £12 million Sea King rescue helicopter made an emergency landing when crew reported hearing a loud bang.
The Royal Navy Sea King Mk 5 was in Glencoe, on a training exercise, when the pilot, with a co-pilot and two crew on board, became aware of a gearbox fault. The emergency landing by the Kings House Hotel happened last Sunday afternoon. The helicopter was placed under around-the-clock guard for six days, before it was finally able to be transported by road back to HMS Gannet, Prestwick, on Saturday.
In a scene that would not have looked out of place in James Bond movie Skyfall, which was filmed in Glencoe, a Chinook helicopter from RAF Odiham, near Guildford, airlifted the stripped-down Sea King to Glencoe Mountain Resort car park on Friday.
Royal Navy spokesman Nathan Dua said: “The aircrew of a Royal Navy Sea King Mk 5 were aware of an issue with the helicopter and they decided to put it down where they did, next to the hotel.
“They were on a training exercise, they suspected a problem and decided to set it down so they could investigate the problem further.”
He confirmed: “There was some damage to the gearbox, so they landed.”
The helicopter crew had returned to HMS Gannet after a specialist mechanical engineer team, contracted by HMS Gannet and the RAF, arrived.
Chief Petty Officer Dua added that the helicopter was kept under guard all week. He said the cause of the problem would be investigated, adding: “They will get it back to the comfort of its hangar where they can inspect it and work out, bit by bit, what has happened and then repair it.”
He said he was unaware of any other Sea Kings experiencing a similar problem.
Rod Leitch, owner of the King’s House Hotel, said: “The people on the helicopter heard a big bang and they landed about 50 yards from the hotel. I understand it was a cracked gearbox.
“They were all OK, but they couldn’t get it shifted by road, it was too heavy. They tried to get a crane but the crane was 50 tonnes and the bridge here is only 25 tonnes.
“They even thought about building a road to get it out.
“They had to strip it all down, to make it as light as possible. A team of RAF mechanics came up and it took them about a week to do it.”
Calum MacLeod, of Glencoe Mountain Resort, said: “They shifted it here from the Kings House car park with a big Chinook and took the rotors off. They moved it here because it’s a big space, so it was a lot more manoeuvrable.”
Local heavy load recovery garage Chisholms of Ballachulish was called in to assist with a winch, so that it could complete its journey on a low loader by road on Saturday.
Yesterday, Argyll LibDem MP Alan Reid called for the Royal Navy to order an urgent review of its maintenance procedures.
Mr Reid said: “It is fortunate that nobody was hurt and that they were on a training exercise and not a rescue mission.
“The navy must urgently review their maintenance procedures to find out why this fault wasn’t picked up before the gear box failed.”