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June 2004, Archive Story

TRANSCRIPT OF THE COCKPIT VOICE RECORDINGS DURING THE LOSS OF XR769

As members of the Association will know, the boots worn by Flt Lt Dick Coleman during his ejection were preserved from disposal by Morris Phillips at the Nickerson Arms in Rothwell and now hang in the Lightning Room at Binbrook. During my attempts to track down more information about the incident, I eventually made contact with Ian Black in France. Dick was Ian's No.2 on the mission, and Ian not only took photographs of the aircraft on fire but has very kindly allowed me to print this account of the loss of XR769, taken from his original notes written on 11 April 1988 immediately after his recovery to Binbrook. The transcript which I made of the tape then follows.

THE LAST EJECTION FROM A LIGHTNING - THE LOSS OF XR769

The sortie (Lightning call sign 'Schubert Formation') was planned as a 4 v 4 affiliation training exercise with air to air refuelling from Victor K2 tankers from 55 Sqn over the North Sea. The targets for the mission were two Phantom F-4Js from No 74 (Tiger) Sqn at Wattisham and two Royal Norwegian F-16 Fighting Falcons on squadron exchange at Wattisham.

I was flying XS901, an ex-5 Sqn aircraft, and my Number 2 was Flight Lieutenant Dick Coleman, an exchange officer from the Royal Australian Air Force flying XR769, about to be coded BB but only partially marked. Flt Lt Al Page and F/O Derek Smith flew XS903 and one other. (We know from Porky Page that his a/c was XS929, so F/O Smith must have been in XS903. Ed.) I had considered taking XR769 myself, giving Flt Lt Coleman XS903, the black-finned F6, thus generating the chance of a photograph of the black-tailed Lightning and the Phantoms on the tanker together. However, (luckily for me) it proved too difficult, and I took XS901 (then still coded AH, ex 5 Sqn).

As I was leading the mission, I had planned two refuelling brackets for the Lightnings. After take-off, we would head straight for the tanker, fill to full, then start the affiliation exercise. After twenty minutes or so it was planned that both the Phantoms and Lightnings would take on fuel as and when required. The briefing and departure all went as planned. Airborne from Binbrook, we climbed up to 28,000 feet and headed straight for the tanker 100 miles north-east to refill our tanks to full prior to our rendezvous with the F-16s and F-4s. Twenty miles off the coast, the day was clear with little or no cloud. Leaving the tanker, we descended to 10,000 feet and set up a racetrack pattern waiting for the targets.

We quickly had contacts on the radar, twenty miles away and slightly above us. By ten nautical miles we could see a faint dot on the horizon heading directly for us. Kicking the burners in, we accelerated to 500 kts before the merge. As an F-4 passed down my left side I pulled hard upwards and to the left, which he quickly countered. Back up at 20,000 feet, we passed each other beak to beak. Time to grab more energy. I unloaded the aircraft and began a left-hand descending turn then, as I looked left, I heard a garbled Mayday call and saw a Lightning 2-3 miles away streaming white vapour.

He was pulling up towards me, being hotly chased by an F-4J. I called a stop on our frequency and asked who had put out the Mayday. 'Schubert 2'. 'Roger, I acknowledge visual with you'. Barrelling round him to kill my speed, I closed up on his left side for a visual inspection about four wingspans out. I asked the GCI (ground radar) for a vector to Binbrook and told them to get the Leconfield Wessex airborne. Having sat in crew rooms for some time listening to 'war stories', Lightnings and fire don't mix, so I knew things didn't look good. Flames were licking the side of his fuselage under his port wing. As we neared Binbrook, his fuel state became dangerously low, which meant that an attempt to land at Binbrook over populated areas with the fire still burning could have been disastrous. Dick headed east out over the sea and prepared for his ejection.

I moved back and to the right to avoid being hit by his canopy. In addition, I wasn't sure what the aircraft would do once he was out, so I kept my distance. Like watching an action replay, the canopy flew off, followed by the pilot in his seat which tumbled momentarily before I looked back and saw the green, orange and white 'chute billow and disappear into cloud. I then closed up on '769 without its pilot before it performed a gradual left turn and dived into the sea ten miles east of Spurn Head. The Martin Baker seat worked perfectly, and within 20 minutes of my landing back at base, Dick was flown in by a No 22 Sqn Wessex, wet but in perfect health.

Ian Black 

TRANSCRIPT OF THE COCKPIT VOICE RECORDINGS DURING THE LOSS OF XR769

The amateur tape recording of the voice recordings of the pilots and ground controllers during the loss of XR769 is well known amongst Lightning enthusiasts. Some of the copies extend only to the point where the pilot ejects, but I was fortunate that Morris Phillips, former landlord of the Nickerson Arms at Rothwell and a friend of many of the pilots, was able to loan me a version which continued until the SAR helicopter landed the pilot back at Binbrook.

The words used are as accurate as I can make them out from the tape. There are a few places where background interference or the rapidity of the speech make it impossible to decipher, but the great majority of what was said is faithfully represented. What I cannot represent, however, is the clipped, cool and professional tone of the cockpit voice exchanges as the situation rapidly becomes irrecoverable and the decision to eject unavoidable. There is no emotion, no panic and no hesitation about what has to be done. And remember, as you read these words, the events are happening in real time. Where there is a significant pause with no speech, I have left a line blank. There are also some explanatory notes in italics which were not part of the transcript.

KEY:- D C, Dick Coleman; I B, Ian Black; D P, the Duty Pilot, an experienced pilot who would be available at all times to advise and assist if a problem arose on a sortie; A P, Alan 'Porky' Page; BIN, Binbrook Director; SAR, pilot of the Rescue helicopter; D&D, London control of the SAR.

  • D C ................ details?
  • I B ......by the Red Top now, but it's not as bad as it was before.
    D C Roger
  • I B I'll just come and take another closer look on the starboard, correction, port.
  • D C OK, don't go underneath me, the controls are starting to stiffen up.
  • I B Roger
  • D C Going back to the starboard now. Down to one thousand pounds on the starboard side. I'll have to try shortly if we're going to go for it.
  • I B Copy
  • DC OK, going for a slow descent on two seven zero.
  • I B Copy, I'll follow you down in trail. (directly behind)
  • D C Roger, range and bearing now to home?
  • I B OK, it's two five zero at twenty five miles.
  • D C Roger.
  • I B Check QFE, Staxton. (The base altimeter setting. QFE set the runway at zero, QNH set it at sea level)
  • I B Copied.
  • D C Set.
  • I B The docks, mate. They're on the nose at twelve miles.
  • D C Roger.
  • I B That's a good heading for the docks at eleven miles.
  • D C Roger. What's it look like now, Blackie?
  • I B I'm going to come under again for a quick look.
  • I B I think it appears to have gone out. It's slightly orange now. Still on fire though.
  • D C It's still burning?
  • I B Yeah.
  • D C Yes, I'd like to go to Binbrook, please, I'd like to talk to the D P.
  • I B OK, Dick. On close inspection, from the back of the Red Top to half-way down the ventral is completely burnt.
  • D C Roger. Does it look like it's still burning?
  • I B It's still burning and I can see control runs and I can see wires hanging off. It doesn't look good, mate.
  • D C Roger. I've got the Fire One illuminated again.
  • D C How far from the coast are we, Staxton?
  • D C Roger. Turning starboard now, I'm going to need ...........to get down at least. I'm moving away from the coast.
  • I B I'll follow you down, mate.
  • D C Roger. I've only got eight hundred pounds left, not much to play with.
  • I B Copy.
  • D C I'm not so sure I've got control of the Number Two. It's losing fuel at a rapid rate, six hundred degrees and no RPM indication.
  • I B Copy.
  • D C Shall we go to Stud Five, please, Staxton? (changing to the emergency radio frequency)
  • D C Are we going to Stud Five? Binbrook Director please.
  • BIN Stud Five, go.
  • I B Schubert.
  • D C Schubert Two.
  • I B Binbrook, Schubert One and Mayday.
  • BIN Schubert One and Mayday, you're loud and clear.
  • D C Have you got the D P there?
  • BIN D P is listening.
  • D C D P, the Number One has still got a Fire One illuminated, looks like it's still burning, the control runs are bare. The Number Two is still operational and I'm down to seven hundred pounds of fuel. I'm either going to have to try it now or get rid of it.
  • D P If it's still burning, you're going to have to leave it, mate.
  • I B Yeah, from Blackie, I'm on his left hand side, it's burnt all the way through down the left hand side of the ventral. I can see some of the wires hanging through, but it's obviously still flying OK.
  • D P Have you still got evidence of fire?
  • D C Affirmative, Fire One is still illuminated.
  • I B From Blackie, there is still a fire burning behind the back of the Red Top.
  • D P Roger
  • D C I'm going to throw it away, Blackie.
  • D C I'll be coming port on to east.
  • D C Director, did you copy that?
  • BIN Affirmative, we copy that. The rescue helicopter is on the way.
  • D C Roger.
  • I B OK, Binbrook, we are zero seven five, sixteen from you. (On a bearing of 075 at sixteen miles. This would usually be written in the form 075/16)
  • BIN We have radar contact.
  • D C Steady now, zero nine zero at ten thousand feet.
  • D C You staying well clear, Blackie?
  • I B Yeah, I'm still there.
  • D C OK, I'm going to eject, mate.
  • I B Clear.
  • I B OK, Dick's out, he's in his chute and he's away from the seat.
  • BIN Copy.
  • I B He's going into cloud now. The aeroplane's in a left hand turn passing about one zero zero.
  • BIN Copy.
  • I B I'll follow the aeroplane and just watch it. Dick's going into cloud now. His chute appeared to open OK and the seat fell away from him. He's all right.
  • BIN Roger, copy that.
  • I B For the D P, I've got about fourteens. (1400 lbs of fuel per side)
  • D P Roger
  • I B The aeroplane's in a slow descent now.
  • I B OK, It's still flying in a left hand turn, it's pitching up now.
  • I B The aeroplane's on a heading of three three zero now.
  • BIN Roger, copy that. The helicopter's got a lock-on to Dick and is heading for him now.
  • I B Thanks.
  • I B It's still flying straight and level at about fifteen thousand feet.
  • BIN Roger.
  • A P Binbrook Director, Schubert Four. (Porky Page and Derek Smith in the second two-ship have arrived)
  • BIN Schubert Four, go ahead.
  • A P Roger. He's in his parachute, he's got his life jacket inflated, his PSP's been lowered and he's waving. (The Personal Survival Pack would automatically drop from the seat to hang below the pilot during a parachute descent)
  • BIN Roger, copied.
  • I B And Porky from Blackie, I'll be recovering in five minutes. I'm just watching the aeroplane. If you want to come up and look at it, it's heading about three three zero now.
  • A P What, his aeroplane's still flying?
  • I B Yeah, affirmative.
  • A P OK, mate.
  • I B Yeah, it's in a left hand orbit. Hopefully it'll go away from the land.
  • A P Blackie, have you taken plenty of film of it?
  • I B Affirmative.
  • A P Roger. Well, Grinner's orbiting the spot where Dick's parachute has just come down into cloud. I'll try and come up and find you. (Grinner was Derek Smith's combat call-sign)
  • I B Copied, and I'd like priority on landing, please.
  • A P That's fine, mate. I'm around about Bingo Two'ish at the moment.
  • I B And I'm at Bingo Three. (Fuel state. Bingo One was 2200 lbs per side, Bingo Two was 1800 lbs per side and Bingo Three was 1400 lbs per side)
  • A P Yeah, I thought you might. I'll go to Staxton and try to get a vector on you.
  • A P What's your height?
  • I B Fourteen thousand. Got no TACAN lock on Binbrook, I'm afraid.
  • A P OK.
  • BIN Porky, from you is three four zero, twelve.
  • A P Contact.
  • I B Porky, I'm going to Stax for one. (For one minute)
  • A P Copy.
  • I B OK, starting a left hand descending turn now.
  • BIN Roger
  • I B Three three cloud now. OK, I'm overhead the crash position now, if you can get it.
  • I B Copy that, Binbrook?
  • BIN Roger, I've got that.
  • I B About half a mile beneath. I'm descending to two thousand. Am I clear?
  • BIN Affirmative, there's nothing ahead on recovery.
  • I B Copy, I'll be precautionary single engine.
  • BIN Schubert One, Roger.
  • I B Just check my heading, I've got no TACAN.
  • BIN Roger. Turn left, heading two four zero.
  • I B Steady.
  • I B OK, I imagine it's crashed about three miles from Spurn Point. Just going for a look.
  • BIN Roger.
  • I B OK, visual the crash site. From the caravan site east of Spurn Point, it's due east by about five miles.
  • BIN Affirmative, due east by five from the caravan site to the north of Spurn.
  • I B Yeah, just to the south of Easington, it's about one zero zero, six miles.
  • BIN Roger.
  • I B And I'm going to Stud One.
  • BIN Roger
  • A P OK, Blackie, I'm up above you. Has it hit the sea yet?
  • I B Yeah, it's in the sea, six miles east of Bravo, correction, Alpha.
  • A P It was about a mile in trail of you when it went in.
  • A P Going to Stax.
  • I B Tower, Schubert One.
  • BIN Schubert One, Tower. Join two one right hand, QFE one zero zero six, circuit clear. (ie. Runway 21)
  • I B Two one, one double-oh six, Schubert One.
  • BIN Do you see any traffic in the local area?
  • I B Schubert One, nothing there.
  • SAR ..... in orbit, height approximately four thousand, five thousand feet.
  • D&D .........Roger, that's possibly the plane, stand by for check.
  • SAR Roger, still in wide orbit, he's turning inland at this time, maintaining a left hand turn.
  • D&D One Twenty Eight, it looks like that's your Lightning over the pilot ... ... I've lost the CLP, have you got it?
  • SAR .....I've lost the audio on the beacon but I still have a homing ..............indication.
  • D&D .....I'm relieved about that. I'm just trying to get the frequencies of the orbiting Lightnings done.
  • SAR Roger, One Two Eight.
  • A P Roger, Schubert Four's on this.
  • D&D Schubert Four, you've got a Rescue One Twenty Eight underneath. Do you have the abandoned pilot in sight?
  • A P I'm trying to find him right now. I'm just about one mile east of Easington at two thousand feet.
  • D&D Roger. Would you like to talk to Rescue One Two Eight who's in your immediate vicinity for pick-up.
  • A P Yeah, affirmative.
  • SAR Schubert Four, This is One Two Eight on Guard. (the emergency frequency) I estimate my position to be about four miles to the east of you, height one thousand feet, heading one five five degrees, still homing for the pilot.
  • I B Yeah, I'm homing on the pilot fix as well, trying to find him. You're in about the right area.
  • SAR Roger, continue homing.
    D&D Schubert to London, what level are you flying at?
  • A P Two thousand feet.
  • D&D Do you want to know the .........at one thousand?
  • A P Roger.
  • SAR London, Rescue One Two Eight, we're visual with the pilot in dinghy, descending for pick-up.
  • D&D Roger, One Two Eight, message from Binbrook, would you assess condition of pilot and go straight to Ely?
  • SAR Confirm, One Two Eight.
  • D&D ..............Affirmative, they won't be on radar yet, but I'll follow you..............
  • BIN ..............Many thanks for your assistance and.............
  • SAR Binbrook Director, this is Rescue helicopter One Two Eight.
  • BIN Rescue helicopter, this is Binbrook Director, you're loud and clear. Flight information five hundred feet
  • BIN The Binbrook QFE one zero zero six.
  • SAR One zero zero six, reset now.............
  • BIN Rescue One Two Eight, Binbrook on two one, right hand, the colour is blue. (Weather state)
  • SAR Rescue One Two Eight, that's copied and our ETA now five minutes.
  • BIN Rescue One Two Eight, Roger.
  • BIN Rescue One Two Eight, the Binbrook visual circuit is clear, there's nothing in the instrument pattern to affect.
  • SAR Binbrook, One Two Eight copy.
  • BIN Rescue One Two Eight, report airfield in sight.
  • SAR Wilco, One Two Eight. Just for the medic's information, the pilot's probably got a little bit of shock setting in at this time.
  • BIN Did you say shock?
  • SAR Yes, that's the only thing we can see wrong with him. There's a slight cut above the left eye from the visor, but shock is just gently beginning to set in.
  • BIN Roger.
  • SAR Binbrook Director, Rescue One Two Eight, just for advance notification, has there been any information about the aircraft wreckage
  • BIN One Two Eight, sorry, I was talking on a land line, will you say again please.
  • SAR Do you know whether we'll be tasked to investigate the aircraft wreckage? Do you have an approximate position for it?
  • BIN I have a position. I'll speak with D&D. I believe there is somebody out there already.
  • SAR Roger, we'll remain on this frequency. The airfield's in sight at this time. Do you wish us to change?
  • BIN Affirmative, the Tower frequency is two four two six five.
  • SAR Two four two six five, One Two Eight
  • SAR Binbrook Tower, Rescue One Two Eight, visual to field, join via domestic site.
  • BIN Rescue One Two Eight, Binbrook Tower, clear join twenty one right, QFE one zero zero six. The circuit clear, are you familiar with Binbrook?
  • SAR Reasonably so, I've been here before.
  • BIN You'll be parking on the northern end of the ASP.
  • SAR Copy, One Two Eight.
  • SAR One Two Eight, will you confirm there will be an ambulance waiting for us?
  • BIN Rescue One Two Eight, that's affirmative, and doctor.
  • SAR Copy that, One Two Eight.
  • BIN Rescue One Two Eight, the ambulance is parked on the ASP just to the right of the tower.
  • SAR Roger, visual.
  • BIN One Two Eight, you are clear to land, surface wind two four zero, twelve knots.
  • SAR OK.

TAPE ENDS

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