Obituary: Squadron Leader Ron Scott AFC, airman

Ron Scott (second from left)
Ron Scott (second from left)
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Born: 14 February, 1932, in Galashiels. Died: 2 July, 2012, in Melrose, aged 80.

Ron Scott was a skilful and courageous airman whose dedication to saving the lives of others earned him the Air Force Cross.

Awarded for exemplary gallantry in the air, the decoration followed countless helicopter search and rescue missions over land and sea, often in hazardous conditions.

After one freak accident, when a hovercraft flipped upside down in a raging gale, he and his crew helped in the rescue of 22 survivors from the sea off the south coast of England.

Later, operating out of RAF Lossiemouth, missions regularly involved airlifting sailors from stricken vessels or climbers who had got into difficulty on the Scottish mountains.

On retiring from the RAF, where he had also been a fighter pilot and flown in the Special Air Service, he moved into hospitality, running a guest house and coffee shop in the Borders with his wife.

But his working life had begun in a completely different field: the son of a Galashiels baker, he left Galashiels Academy at 14 and became an apprentice painter and decorator.

Always interested in aircraft and flying, however, he had been a member of the Air Training Corps for a considerable time and, when he was called up to do his national service, took the opportunity to join the Royal Air Force.

In the early 1950s, when his two-year stint was complete, he enlisted again in the RAF and, having been a rear gunner, went to Canada to train as a fighter pilot. After gaining a commission, he joined 43 Squadron at RAF Leuchars and was later posted to Singapore.

It was the mid-1960s and the time of the South-East Asia Confrontation when Indonesia was threatening the newly-created Malaysia. There he flew single pioneer aircraft, designed for short take-off and landing, flying Special Air Service members out of Borneo.

After Singapore he returned to the UK and was based at RAF Bridgnorth where he converted to flying helicopters and subsequently spent several years in search and rescue. It was while he was based at Thorney Island, near Chichester, that he became involved in the dramatic rescue of passengers on the overturned hovercraft.

The vessel, which plied a route across the Solent between Ryde and Portsmouth, was not far offshore on the afternoon of Saturday, 4 March, 1972, when it was hit by a fatal combination of freak tide, wave and wind.

Luckily, an auxiliary coastguard who witnessed the hovercraft tilt and turn over immediately radioed for help.

Scott was duty pilot that day and was quickly on the scene where survivors had been thrown into the sea, some managing to cling to the upturned hull. Although the expertise of the rescue services, including his helicopter crew, saved 22 people that day, five others died in the incident, the world’s first fatal accident involving a commercially operated hovercraft.

A year or so later he was posted to RAF Lossiemouth and was awarded his Air Force Cross in the 1973 Queen’s Birthday Honours. He received the honour, presented in recognition of exemplary gallantry in the air on non-active operations, from Her Majesty at the Palace of Holyrood House.

He retired in his mid-50s, with the rank of Squadron Leader, having spent his final ten years in the service as a helicopter test pilot at RAF Shawbury in Shropshire.

Civvy Street saw him return to his roots in Galashiels where he and his wife, Noreen, whom he married in 1955, ran Buckholmburn Guest House. They also transformed an adjacent disused property into a coffee shop and operated both enterprises for about 14 years. The businesses suited Scott, who loved meeting people and was an excellent host.

He was also involved in local golf, as a member of numerous clubs including Torwoodlee, St Boswells and Berwick, and as an office bearer of the Borders Golfers Association where he was regarded as a very astute and good servant during his 30-plus years as secretary/treasurer.

His son Douglas said: “He was a special person and he gave his life to saving other people’s. He was a very well respected officer in the Air Force and a gentleman.”

He is survived by his wife Noreen, their children Douglas and Lesley and grandson Matthew.

ALISON SHAW