An investigation has been launched after a retired north-east minister slipped from a helicopter harness as he was winched from a freezing loch.
Tributes have been paid to former Aberdeen University chaplain Dr Bill Murdoch who died during a fishing trip.
A major operation was launched to rescue the 64-year-old – who also served parishes in Aberdeenshire for more than a decade – after locals reported someone falling from a dinghy on Loch Fyne.
A Royal Navy Sea King was scrambled from HMS Gannet at Prestwick, Tighnabruaich lifeboat was launched and Loch Goil coastguard rescue team was sent to the scene.
But as he was being winched into the aircraft, he slipped from the helicopter harness and plunged back into the water.
The rescue team managed to retrieve his body then battled to revive him on the way to Glasgow’s Queen Elizabeth University hospital.
Dr Murdoch – who had dedicated his life to charity work since his retirement from the church – was pronounced dead 90 minutes after the first 999 call was made.
Yesterday, Dr Murdoch’s funeral took place at Mid Deeside Parish Church at Torphins, where his father John is church reader.
Meanwhile, following the results of a post-mortem, a Royal Navy spokesman revealed that he had died in the water before the rescue team arrived on the scene.
Police also confirmed there were no suspicious circumstances surrounding his death.
The Navy has launched an internal investigation into what happened as it tries to piece-together what caused him to fall during the incident.
“While all the signs were that Dr Murdoch had passed away prior to the rescue, which was confirmed by the post-mortem examination, our thoughts are of course with his family at this extremely difficult time,” a spokesman said.
“Search and rescue is a challenging and complex task which the Royal Navy conducts with professionalism in all conditions.”
Edinburgh-born Dr Murdoch, an Aberdeen University graduate, lived in the north-east for years as he served as a Church of Scotland minister.
He started his tenure in Aberdeenshire as assistant minister at Skene Parish Church near Westhill, before moving to Tarves Parish Church and Barthol Chapel in May 1980.
Last night, those who remembered him from his time at the local manse described him as a “respected” minister who served his community well.
In 1991, he was appointed chaplain of Aberdeen University, where he had been actively involved with the training of new candidates for the church.
Dr Murdoch had also been employed as a research assistant in the geology department between 1972 and 1975, and was a sub-warden at the university’s Crombie Hall of Residence for five years.
A spokesman for the university said its staff were “saddened” to hear of his tragic death.
“Our thoughts are with his family at this time,” he said.
Dr Murdoch retired from the church about a decade ago and moved to Lochgoilhead in Argyll, with his partner Debbie.
The couple also had a caravan in the village of St Catherines, on the shores of Loch Fyne, which Dr Murdoch had walked from on the day he died.
Last night, the Church of Scotland also praised the retired minister, whose death has “devastated” his family.
A spokeswoman said: “We are very grateful for the service the Rev Bill Murdoch gave to the church. He entered ministry in 1980, serving as both a parish minister and university chaplain.
“This news has been received with sadness in his former charges and we offer our sincere condolences to his loved ones.”
When Dr Murdoch retired from the church a decade ago, he dedicated his life to those in need, particularly in Africa.
He and his wife Debbie travelled to poor countries across the world volunteering.
He got involved with a charitable maternity unit in Malawi called Joyful Motherhood, and inspired people living in the north-east to help.
Ladies who attended the Mid Deeside Church started knitting teddy bears, clothes and baby blankets for him to take abroad.
He wrote back to the parish that his African friends were “full of admiration” for the skill and imagination of
the people who created such vital items.
At his funeral yesterday, his family said any donations made at the church door would be given to the Ndi Moyo Hospice in Malawi.