Stur­geon, KGB, UFOs and a hero dog

The Oban Times - - News -

A TRAWL of The Oban Times’ ar­chives 25 years ago has fetched up strange sto­ries from the depths of 1992, in­clud­ing en­coun­ters with the KGB, UFOs, and a ter­rier that saved a skip­per’s life.

The jour­ney down the rab­bit hole be­gan with a hunt for the Isle of Seil’s ‘ bridge party’, cel­e­brat­ing the 200th birth­day of its Bridge over the At­lantic, which blooms purple with fairy fox­gloves every May. This year the single-arch bridge is 225 years old, and still stand­ing.

But back in 1992, we first found first sight­ings of actor Robert De Niro din­ing in the In­ver­lochy Cas­tle Ho­tel in Fort Wil­liam, and then the United States’ ‘most se­cret mil­i­tary air­craft’ fly­ing through the skies above Kin­tyre at more than three times the speed of sound.

Re­ports of mys­te­ri­ous fast-mov­ing radar blips and eerie en­gine noises in­creased spec­u­la­tion that Machri­han­ish was the base for a new hy­per-sonic su­per-plane.

A na­tional news­pa­per re­ported that an RAF air traf­fic con­troller was star­tled to see radar blips emerge from the joint RAF-NATO base trav­el­ling at three times the speed of sound.

The air traf­fic con­troller phoned RAF Machri­han­ish, but was told to for­get what he had seen, the news­pa­per re­port claimed.

Speak­ing from Min­nesota, an ex­pert on stealth air­craft Bill Sweet­man told The Oban Times he had heard sim­i­lar re­ports in the US, cit­ing a New York Times ar­ti­cle de­scrib­ing the de­vel­op­ment of an air­craft with mach six ca­pa­bil­i­ties. He added the re­mote­ness of Machri­han­ish would make it per­fect for a top se­cret op­er­a­tion.

Asked how se­cret the air­craft would be, Mr Sweet­man said: ‘Put it this way – in 1988 the US Air Force had 50 F-117 stealth air­craft op­er­at­ing in Ne­vada and still de­nied they even ex­isted. It would be pos­si­ble for something like this to be buried.’

Then Rus­sia raised its head. Rus­sia is cur­rently dis­rupt­ing Amer­i­can pol­i­tics, but back then it was caus­ing merry hell in Oban, when the KGB held up at­tempts to forge ex­change links be­tween a Rus­sian and Oban Moun­taineer­ing Club.

Mr ‘Ned’ Rim­mer had in­vited Rus­sian moun­taineers Igor Chu­rakov, Yuri Kyarov and ju­nior woman’s rock climb­ing cham­pion Anas­ta­sia over to sam­ple Bri­tain’s to­pog­ra­phy and or­gan­ise vis­its be­tween the two coun­tries.

The KGB, how­ever, ap­par­ently for no rea­son, con­fis­cated Anas­ta­sia’s pass­port, which cost the equiv­a­lent of two years’ wages. The KGB also told Mr Chu­rakov that his doc­u­ments and visas con­tained ‘ir­reg­u­lar­i­ties’.

‘My re­ac­tion was that he wanted a bribe,’ said Mr Rim­mer of Ker­rera. ‘The bu­reau­cracy is ap­palling. The KGB are lit­tle grey men in lit­tle grey suits who are sud­denly faced with an ini­tia­tive and can’t seem to latch onto the fact that these peo­ple are free.’

Strange things were also hap­pen­ing at sea off Gigha, where, as re­ported on April 16, a rare stur­geon was caught by the Tar­bert fish­ing ves­sel Cale­do­nia.

The 23lb fish, renowned for its ex­pen­sive roe caviar, was caught by skip­per Kenny Brown’s crew off Gigha’s west coast. ‘It was caught off the Rus­sian,’ Mr Brown said, iron­i­cally re­fer­ring to the prox­im­ity of the catch to the stranded fac­tory ship Kartli.

The stur­geon was kept alive in wa­ter un­til the boat docked in West Loch Tar­bert. It was then sold at auc­tion on Tar­bert quay for £ 35.50 to lo­cal fish mer­chant Mal­colm MacKin­non. Mr MacKin­non said he would sell the fish on the Lon­don mar­ket, where it could fetch a price be­tween £150 and £200.

Sec­re­tary of Tar­bert Fish­er­men’s Co- op Harold Scott said he had only come across one other stur­geon landed in Great Bri­tain dur­ing the past 30 years.

Gigha’s twi­light zone con­tin­ued onto May 14, with a story en­ti­tled ‘A skip­per’s best friend’, re-pub­lished be­low:

A skip­per’s best friend

SHELLACH the dog proved she was her skip­per’s best friend when she gave him the ‘kiss of life’ dur­ing a high sea drama on Satur­day.

The Gigha ferry, the is­land’s district nurse and a Sea King he­li­copter from HMS Gan­net were all in­volved in the dra­matic air- sea res­cue.

Lone fish­er­man Mr Richard Fox, of Clachan, was try­ing to un­block his boat’s clam dredge when its metal teeth snapped shut, crush­ing and trap­ping his thumb.

Bleed­ing badly and ly­ing on his back, he inched his way to the other end of the boat to get a crow­bar to free him­self.

Dur­ing a painful 20 min­utes, he fainted twice. Each time he was brought round by his dog ‘ wash­ing his face’.

Speak­ing from his bed at Crosshouse Hospi­tal, Kil­marnock, Mr Fox said: ‘I think she was wak­ing me up say­ing, go on, have an­other try.’

Mr Fox was fish­ing the Sound of Gigha on Satur­day morn­ing in his 10-me­tre steel trawler Searcher when the ac­ci­dent hap­pened.

Af­ter free­ing his thumb, Mr Fox was able to get to the moor­ings at Ard­min­ish Bay.

Clyde Coast­guard alerted Gigha’s aux­il­iary Coast­guard who con­tacted the ap­proach­ing pas­sen­ger ferry. She picked up the is­land’s district nurse and Mr Fox was trans­ferred on board.

In be­tween times, Mr Fox passed out again. Shellach, a two-year- old Bor­der Lake­land ter­rier cross, called for help.

Mr Fox said: ‘She was ap­par­ently bark­ing like mad at the ferry crew as they ap­proached.’

Mr Fox was then taken ashore and air­lifted to Crosshouse Hospi­tal.

He said: ‘It could have been an aw­ful lot worse. If I had been stuck there, I could have bled to death.’

He said of Shellach: ‘I am look­ing for­ward to see­ing her again.’

Mr Fox, who had steel pins in­serted in his thumb, was flown to Camp­bel­town on Tuesday where he was re­united with wife Fiona and hero­ine Shellach.

Left: Richard Fox is re­united with his life-sav­ing pooch Shellach. Seil bridge, blooming with purple fairy fox­glove in May, is 225 years old this year. And a Tar­bert boat landed a dis­tinctly odd fish.

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