'Burning, burning . . . they didn't stand a chance'

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A LOCAL doctor who reached the scene minutes after the helicopter crashed into the Mull of Kintyre said yesterday: 'There are accidents and there are the things I saw on Thursday night.'

Dr Geoffrey Horton said: 'Bodies were burned beyond recognition, mutilated with terrible head and face injuries. Piles of corpses, the stench of kerosene and burning, burning everywhere. It is the worst sight I have ever seen.'

Gordon Black, coxswain of the Campbeltown lifeboat, who went to the scene with his men, said: 'We are used to picking people out of the sea when they have drowned, and that is not a pretty thing. But nothing prepares you for the sight of bodies ripped apart, burnt and unrecognisable.'

Dr Horton told how the medical teams tried to revive one victim. 'We came across a member of the crew. He had limb injuries, but we thought we could detect a pulse. We tried to resuscitate him, but got nothing. We knew then that he, like all the others, was dead.'

Beside the bodies, Dr Horton said, lay briefcases, documents and travel bags. 'All the personal effects were there. It was tragic. You could see all the things people normally take with them on flights when they are travelling to a conference - newspapers, books, magazines, clothes, presents, golf clubs. I am terribly, terribly distressed. I am used to dealing with farmers who have cut themselves up with their ploughs. It is impossible to exaggerate the horror of that night.'

Rescuers said the explosion that erupted when the helicopter struck the hillside set fire to bodies, luggage and wreckage. The blaze raged through the heather, leaving the slopes of Beinn na Lice blackened.

Mountain rescue teams and lifeboatmen said the fuselage disintegrated on impact and wreckage was thrown up the hillside and across a road leading to Mull lighthouse, on the tip of the Kintyre peninsula. The pilot and co-pilot were found strapped in their seats, near the hilltop.

Mr Black said: 'The impact was massive. The craft split in two, with the rear section breaking up about 200 yards up the hillside above the sea, and the nose being forced upwards towards the summit. All around there was fuel and metal.

'Although conditions were foggy, the heather was dry and the fire spread quickly to engulf the hillside. The heat was tremendous. The poor souls didn't stand a chance.'