Thaw and Sierra Kilo 138…

11th February 2023

The wet and windy theme continued today, as the slow thaw continues to take hold. Reports from SAIS Forecasters out in the Creag Meagaidh area yesterday indicated that there was some variation in precipitation (I actually mean rain), between the Coire Ardair area and the eastern end of the massif approached from the Upper Spey.

This might mean the thawing snowpack has different characteristics from east to west. Visiting Coire Ardair today, the heavier rain of yesterday has clearly percolated through the snowpack resulting in a period of instability, evidenced by cornice debris in multiple locations from above Bellevue Buttress, under the post face and Inner Coire. In time this will bring consolidation of the snowpack, but at the moment wet snow instabilities still exist in steeper locations above 850 metres. These are mainly confined to the lee aspects of recent days, that is to say North, North-East, East and South-East aspects. The big picture is that of a Low Avalanche Hazard.

However, the threat of cornice collapse remains. There will almost certainly be cornices that linger above the big faces of Coire Ardair, although unfortunately the coire rim remained largely shrouded in cloud today.

Little change is expected tomorrow as the thaw continues. The freezing level is around 2800 metres, but it is likely the surface of the snow will be firm given a slightly more stable airmass than of late, combined with some radiation cooling. So while the snowpack will be saturated and soft in the vast majority of locations, don’t throw winter equipment out of the bag just yet! You might need the security of crampons and an axe at higher elevations tomorrow.


Arguably the most exposed bench anywhere? Note the avalanche debris in Raeburn’s Gully (left) and in Easy Gully (right) under the post face. There were multiple sets of debris overlying each other from recent days, and it is difficult to distinguish one set from another. We have certainly had avalanche activity and cornice collapse in the last 48 hours.


Looking up into ‘Cinderella’ in the Inner Coire. Note the avalanche debris on the approach apron (apologies for the high contrast image, required to bring out the debris).


I have often wandered away from the path on the decent from Coire Ardair in search of the spot where Sea King ‘Sierra Kilo 138’ crashed on the 28 January 1989. Making an approach to the mountain rescue kit box close to the Lochan, the aircraft suffered a failure in one of two engines. It must have gone down on the only easy angled boggy ground in the otherwise steep corrie, preventing any significant injury of those on board (of which there were 9). The mountain rescue kit box is no longer there incidentally, and I have always assumed it used to be where the bench is now. I can’t remember from my early trips into the corrie, but perhaps somebody knows?

Anyway, today during my wanderings I found a small solitary shard of fuselage lying in the bog from XZ585 aka SK138. The location was NN440885 for those interested. Details at:


A small shard of fuselage from Sea King 138 which crashed on the 28 January 1989 in Coire Ardair. Incidentally as I understand, it was normal for this aircraft to use Sierra Kilo, as in Sea King 138 for normal operations, while it would take the more well know callsign ‘Rescue 138’ for rescue operations.


An image of the crash (c) Lochaber MRT which featured in the book ‘RESCUE’ from the early 90’s. Thanks to Lochaber MRT and I should link to their post here on Facebook which gives a full description from some of the crew involved.


Comments on this post

  • Helen Rennie
    11th February 2023 7:05 pm

    Even in those lean conditions your blogs are so interesting and give us much more than just an update on the present snow cover. Great read about Sierra Kilo, especially as the occupants all survived, and looking at the photo I’m amazed that the helicopter went on to fly again.

    • meagaidhadmin
      11th February 2023 8:21 pm

      Thanks Helen. There will be some film footage somewhere online as two of the occupants were filming for the BBC series ‘RESCUE’ at the time. I believe that the aircraft needed to be “substantially” rebuilt, and was decommissioned at RAF Boulmer south of the border. It is now a museum exhibit somewhere I believe. Hopefully normal blogging service will resume with some more snow fall…

    • meagaidhadmin
      11th February 2023 8:26 pm

      Do you know incidentally where the mountain rescue kit box used to be? My first trip into the coire was around 1994, but I have no memory…

  • John Lyall
    11th February 2023 8:36 pm

    The rescue box was on the same mound as the bench.

    • meagaidhadmin
      11th February 2023 9:26 pm

      Thanks John!

  • Stan Wygladala
    12th February 2023 1:17 am

    Very interesting and informative comments. My dad flew Wellingtons in the war, mainly over the North Sea from Scotland. They were tasked to bomb and depth charge German Subs heading for the Atlantic to sink shipping from the USA . They were very successful as the subs, unlike in the films, ran on the surface and were slow to submerge. He didn’t like what he did as he imagined the sailors dying.
    And there are several plane wreckages in the Brecon Beacons, mainly bombers. I will not say where as they are mainly quite intact but each year I visit them and pay respect for those men, some of them Canadians, who died to protect us from what we have now.

    • meagaidhadmin
      12th February 2023 2:44 pm

      Thanks Stan. An interesting bit of history that, especially as some of those aircraft ended up as wrecks on high ground across the UK. The personal links between these events are never far away. I had a message last night forwarded on from a pilot at RAF Lossiemouth at the time of the SK138 crash, his last Search and Rescue operation was flying Rescue 138 over the North Sea. That was for the Piper Alpha disaster…

  • Keith Horner
    13th February 2023 10:20 am

    I remember being belayed at the base of the second pitch on North Post in 1986 when a Sea King flew up the glen and into the coire. They spotted us on the route and thinking we might become suitable candidates for rescue hovered really close to the cliff for ages – they had the side door open and we could see people inside really clearly. The helicopter noise made any communication between us impossible and the whole coire was reverberating with the engine and blade noise – we just preyed that the noise didn’t disturb any nearby cornices…… Eventually they must have lost interest in us and flew away towards the Ben which allowed normal upward progress to be resumed… But the skill in which the pilot held the helicopter completely motionless and in such close proximity to the cliff was very impressive

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