Bob’s first job was as a milkman in Aberdour in Fife at the age of 15 in 1959. He chose the job as a way to tide him over until he got into the airforce. His working day began at 8 a.m. each morning. There were no morning breaks in the job. He was allowed 1/2 hour to eat his packed lunch. The milk came from a farm with a very small dairy. Part of his job was washing the glass bottles in a sterilising solution in a bottle machine. They were then refilled with milk and the caps were put on by hand. Bob was trained on the job. In his spare time he went to the cinema in Burnt Island nr. Dunfermline.
After a few months he got a special dispensation to join up at the young age of 15 1/2 and he took a pay cut of £1 a week. He had been earning £3 a week, which he handed over to his mother. He entered the RAF as a boy entrant. He worked as a storeman and then after 18 months applied for air crew. He became an airload master on Britannia Transport Planes. It had four propellers and a turbo prop. He found the work quite mundane even though he visited every continent so he applied to go
on the Search and Rescue Helicopters. He became a winchman. He remained in this job for the rest of his RAF career. He left the RAF in 2004 after 45 years. His service included 8628 hours in the air, 400 missions and was involved in rescuing 350 people, 3 dogs and a bullock.
During 1988-89 a documentary series was made at RAF Lossiemouth focussing on the air-sea rescue work of Rescue 137, a Sea King helicopter Bob served on. A variety of incidents were filmed over the course of a year. During filming “The Rescue (1990)” the helicopter had a mechanical failure in Craigmeaghdi with a double engine failure while coming in for a landing. It was supposed to be a set-up training exercise with a local mountain rescue crew. On board the helicopter were the four RAF crew, the Mountain Rescue crew and the film crew. Bob was in his usual position on his monkey harness (which allows him to swing outside the aircraft) with the helicopter side door locked open. Instinctively as the helicopter came down he closed the door and this action saved his life. As it crashed the helicopter rolled several times on its side. Bob would have been thrown under the aircraft with almost certainly fatal consequences had he not shut the door. Later on as a trainer he always explained to flying crew the importance of not having the monkey harness on a long line when landing citing his experience in this crash as a reason.
After the crash the crew vacated the remains of the helicopter as soon as they could unbuckle themselves (it could have exploded with leaking fuel). A party of climbers saw the helicopter come down, roll over and were convinced no-one had survived. Suddenly hatches popped open and what looked lots of fast-moving ants ran away from the downed aircraft. The pilot had managed to set off a distress beacon and call a Mayday before they landed. This was picked up by RAF Lossiemouth a Wessex helicopter dispatched from RAF Leuchars. The cameraman and the sound recordist started to film the event once they had recovered. Bob and another crew members started walking out and were picked up later. The pilot had a head injury due to a flying oxygen bottle but the mountain rescue crew were on hand to deal with this! Surprisingly the damaged Sea King was able to be fixed by Westland Helicopter and flew again.
Ditching in Hong Kong
While stationed out there the Wessex was called to help a chinese fishing boat in trouble. The crew took off in a typhoon into the South China Sea. There was torrential rain. This flooded both engines which then stopped and the pilot had to ditch into the sea. Three of them clung to an inflated life raft. The other pilot had slipped on the side and got caught on the aerial. He had to disentangle himself and they were all eventually winched off by another Wessex. The typhoon caused islands with land heights of 800 feet to be covered by the resultant waves. When the RAF crews returned safely to their base they found it had been a hoax call.
Memory contributed by Bob Pountney at the Moray Connections Event in Elgin (May 2013)
Boy Entrants into the RAF
Series link on You tube channel set up by STV.
RAF man reunited with rescue boy- article on the BBC news website
A lifetime of rescues- article on the Scottish Herald website
Securing an Nimrod MR2 as a central exhibit- Northern Scot article
Last Nimrod Saved for Exhibit by Morayvia- Moray Chamber of Commerce Article