Westland Wessex XR524

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Westland Wessex XR524

The saddest of air crash sites, three teenage Air Cadets drowned when the helicopter they were in spun out of control and into the the lake of Llyn Padarn at Llanberis in Wales on 12th August 1993.

There were four air cadets on the helicopter, all from Bury and Bolton in Lancashire.

It would have been a big day out for them; while on summer camp in North Wales they had the chance to get first hand experience of search and rescue operations in a Westland Wessex from RAF Valley on Anglesey (which is where Prince William was based, he was the captain of a search and rescue Sea King helicopter).

Flying across the lake a drive shaft for the tail rotor broke, causing the helicopter to spiral down and out of control. It sank immediately. The helicopter’s crew were able to escape, as was one of the cadets, 16 year old Cadet Corporal Sarah Coker.

Cadet Corporal Coker later said that she struggled to get the safety belt off while “…there was all this icy black water gushing in through the door. I didn’t even have time to take a breath of air. I couldn’t see anything and couldn’t breathe. I remember feeling around for the door and not being able to find it. But somehow I got out and inflated my lifejacket. There was no chance to see what happened to any of the others.”

Those who died in the crash were Cadet Corporal Coker’s friend Cadet Sergeant Amanda Whitehead, aged 17 of 1036 Bury Squadron, Cadet Christopher Bailey, aged 15 of 1471 Horwich Squadron and Cadet Mark Oakden, aged 16 and also of 1036 Bury Squadron.

The crew of the Wessex all escaped. They included pilot Flight Lieutenant Keith MacGuire, winchman Flight Lieutenant Paul Todd and a navigator whose identity I have been unable to confirm. If anyone knows, it would be good to add that detail. Edit September 25 2013; Many thanks to Huw for providing the following info re; the unidentified crew member, and also for his thoughts on the cause of the accident (please see comments below);

The navigator sat in the left seat was Dan Eaton. I believe he was a holding officer on SARTU and just happened to be on that flight.

Memorial by the lakeside.

See also;

Photo of Wessex XR524

2 BBC reports (which have some photos) from the 10th anniversary
1. Memorial service

2. Witness account

Military Aircraft Accident Summary (pdf)

Main source and quote; ‘No Landing Place’ Volume 2 by Edward Doylerush, 1999

17 comments on “Westland Wessex XR524
  1. Gizzardtreedude says:

    Incredibly sad story, but as always so well presented Ian.
    I was an Army Cadet too.

  2. Kingsdude/Dave says:

    Of all your crash site photos Ian this has to be the saddest – young cadets doing what they loved and losing their lives in tragic circumstances. Thanks for telling the story, with all your usual detail and well researched background information.

  3. crusader752 says:

    I too have great memories of my time as an Air Cadet Ian. So sad that these poor souls are not around to recall theirs and that their surviving fellow cadet will have to live with the horrors of what happened for ever more – as will the crew who, whilst absolved of any blame will never-the-less in some way no doubt will feel responsible. What a tragic accident, but accidents do happen and while we learn from them, they should never stop such opportunities as air experience flights being given to today’s youngsters.

  4. mick cooke says:

    tragic loss of lives so young ian

  5. cgullz says:

    I was an air cadet too, for about two months. i never liked the uppity corporal that bossed us around, and when we went on camp he was in charge of us when i fell from a 3m or so high cargo net and landed face first on the forest floor [pine needles thankfully]. all he did was help me up, say "are you ok", pat me on the back and sit me down and leave me to it. all power that guy and no leadership. lost my confidence and left not long after. that, however is nothing in comparison to waht ^^ these guys went through. major tragedy, it will be 10 years soon and i bet it’s none the easier for their friends and parents.

  6. bandman12 says:

    Sad history imbedded in this landscape… Life unfulfilled.

  7. Tech Owl says:

    As you say Ian – very sad. I had to read the first bit twice just to make sure of the incident. With connections to places as well I can imagine the sentiment.
    I do like the way you have overlaid the top shot with the inscription. Nice work as always!

  8. Richard Tierney says:

    I remember it now……

    I was here late last year taking pics of the Lake and never associated it with the tragedy.. As an Air Cadet myself, air experience flights where always a thrill and enjoyable. One never imagined being in an accident ( even though we always did bale out lectures before flying ) The young lass did really well keeping her head and getting out…. I would imagine the crew were devastated at all escaping and "leaving" 3 youngsters behind…

    Sooo sad.

  9. amyrey says:

    A very moving account of this tradegy Ian. Although in this instance it turned into disaster, it is to be hoped that young people still get the opportunity to take part in these sorts of events.

  10. Highy says:

    I remember this one Ian, terribly sad for all concerned. I would agree that this is the saddest site that you have featured.

    I was looking at a memorial room for Air Cadets only last week (Thorpe Camp Museum), I was shocked at the number of Cadets that have died in flying accident.

    As an ex-cadet I never progressed beyond gliders but I know that it was the opportunity and thrill of flight that kept most of us going and I would guess those cadets were no different..

    May they rest in peace.

  11. f3liney says:

    I also remember this tragic event happening while I was in the RAF.
    A very poignant account Ian. Thanks for covering this one.

  12. jr55 (John Richardson) says:

    Ian, tragic story, well told, I was a Civilian Instructor with the ATC for three years, all the lads were great, with a common interest in aviation.

  13. Huw says:

    The “navigator” sat in the left seat was Dan Eaton. I believe he was a holding officer on SARTU and just happened to be on that flight.

  14. Huw says:

    XR524 was in the Isle of Man the weekend before the crash. On the Sunday, it had a “pylon open” caption in the cockpit as it prepared to leave for Anglesey. The caption was cleared by opening and closing the tail pylon before the rotors were started. Although the Board of Enquiry decided that the disconnect coupling was not fully engaged and it momentarily disengaged, shock loading the tail rotor drive shaft to failure, I was never comfortable with that hypothesis. I thought it wrong for a couple of reasons: the aircraft had flown all the way from Port St Mary and had a full week of SARTU training before it crashed on the following Friday afternoon – the coupling had been through a number of varying load cycles. Also, have you ever tried to put a stationary car into gear wilst revving the engine and not using the clutch? Whilst I don’t recommend you do this, it is virtually impossible since the differential gear speed simply will not engage without some serious force. The mechanics of the disconnect coupling disengaging in flight are similar and nothing could make it re-engage (and shock load the drive train) as it only had finite pressure from the coupling slide return spring. It is true the the No3 shaft failed at the forward coupling behind the rotor brake disc but, to this day, I remain convinced that there was another reason for the failure.

    • Ian D B says:

      Thanks for your further thoughts on this incident. I just re-read the report and while not qualified to question that, what you say about trying to force a car into gear without using the clutch makes sense. I sometimes accidentally do that when reversing, don’t depress the clutch enough while looking over my shoulder – it makes an embarrassing racket and doesn’t engage. In terms of probability would it be reasonable to assume that if the drive was going to fail it would have done so earlier during the previous week’s exercises? Very interesting to read your views. An enormously sad event whatever the cause, I don’t imagine crews are able to prepare for losses like those.


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