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Moray military representatives pay tribute to ‘heroic’ pilots 40 years on from fatal Kinloss Nimrod crash

Moray military representatives paying their respects to the two pilots.
Moray military representatives paying their respects to the two pilots.

Moray military representatives joined together to recognise the heroic actions taken by two pilots killed in a fatal aircraft crash at Kinloss 40 years ago.

Flight Lieutenant Noel Anthony and his co-pilot, Flying Officer Steve Belcher, were at the controls of a Nimrod MR2 on November 17, 1980.

Their actions, following a bird strike, helped to save the 18 crew on board, though they lost their own lives.

Yesterday, a poignant ceremony, exactly 40 years on from that fateful day, was led by Morayvia chairman Mark Mair outside the aviation heritage centre near Kinloss.

He was joined by councillor John Cowe, Deputy Lord Lieutenant Joan Cowe, Squadron leader Pete Surtees, Captain Shane Middleton, Morayvia director Lynne Herbert and Moray Lord Lieutenant Seymour Monro to pay their respects to the men who made the ultimate sacrifice aboard the Nimrod aircraft.

Since the crash, Lt Anthony – who was on exchange duties from the Royal Australian Air Force at the time – has been awarded a posthumous Air Force Cross and Fg Off Belcher the Queens Commendation for Valuable Service in the Air.

Their aircraft took off from RAF Kinloss in semi-darkness just before 7.30am on a final training sortie as the 206 Squadron moved from the Nimrod MR1 to the more advanced Nimrod MR2.

As it was the last flight of the day, the normal crew grew to 20 with the addition of five checking crew and an additional flight engineer.

Almost immediately, however, the aircraft was in difficulty – at an estimated height of just 20 feet – after flying through a dense flock of sea birds and suffering numerous strikes.

Engines one, two and three were all badly damaged, leaving the aircraft effectively powered by only engine number four.

Flight Lieutenant Anthony endeavoured to maintain what little height and speed he had by ordering full power on the live engines and raising the undercarriage.

With only limited power available, however, he was faced with no alternative but to attempt a controlled crash landing.

The aircraft came down on tree tops about 1,300 yards from the end of the runway and was quickly engulfed in flames.

Eighteen crew members managed to evacuate the wrecked and burning aircraft, but  both the pilot and co-pilot lost their lives.

Five of the 18 crew members suffered varying degrees of injury and all suffered from smoke inhalation.

Mr Mair said yesterday the ceremony was “all about ensuring the pilots were remembered”.

“Representatives from Morayvia were joined by the Lord Lieutenant of Moray, Major General Seymour Monro CBE LVO, and representatives from RAF Lossiemouth and Kinloss Barracks in a short but solemn ceremony at the centre to remember those who lost their lives on the morning of November 17, 1980 and paying tribute to their piloting skills, which saw many others saved.

“At a time of national remembrance many will not know about the loss of XV256, nor remember it, with four decades now having passed, but from all at Morayvia I say ‘We will remember them’.”

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The region’s Lord Lieutenant, Major General Seymour Monro hailed the pilots’ quick thinking and the actions that prevented further casualties.

He said: “The skill and tremendous air mount space shown by the pilots will never be forgotten as they saved other 18 men on board.

“It is also important that service personnel across Moray know we respect and remember them.

“They both deservedly received medals for their selfless actions.”

Major General Monro added it was also “really important” to remember the families of everyone involved in the “catastrophic crash”.

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