Memorial service to remember Fraserburgh lifeboat disaster

Duchess of Kent Image copyright RNLI archive
Image caption The crew had gone to the rescue of a Danish fishing boat

A memorial service will be held later for five RNLI volunteers who died in the Fraserburgh lifeboat disaster 50 years ago.

The Duchess of Kent lifeboat was overturned by a freak wave in gale-force conditions while escorting a Danish fishing vessel to safety.

The tragedy, on 21 January 1970, left five women widowed and 15 children mourning the loss of a father.

The joint funeral of those who perished was attended by 13,000 people.

The crew had gone to the rescue of the fishing boat with four people on board which had sprung a leak and was described as “in a sinking condition” off the Aberdeenshire coast.

A larger Russian ship took the fishing vessel under tow, and the lifeboat was escorting them both back to port when it was hit by a huge wave.

Image copyright RNLI archive
Image caption A photograph captured the moment of the lifeboat was struck by a freak wave

Crew member John Buchan was picked up by the Russian ship after being flung clear during the capsize.

The bodies of Coxswain John Stephen, and crew members William Hadden, James Buchan and James R S Buchan were later recovered from the lifeboat, while mechanic Frederick Kirkness was missing.

Survivor John Buchan never spoke of the tragedy and died a year later.

Mark Hadden, whose grandfather was one of those lost, is himself now a member of the Fraserburgh lifeboat crew.

“These men were local Fraserburgh men,” he said. “They went out in the most appalling weather conditions regardless of what could happen and what the outcome would be.

“They went out to save the lives of others – and in doing so tragically, and selflessly, lost their own lives.

“Every one of those men should be remembered for what they gave and sacrificed that day. I know that I will always remember what they gave, and I hope that we will always take the time to remember their sacrifice.”

Image copyright RNLI Fraserburgh
Image caption Some of those who died were pictured in this photograph: In the foreground coxwain John Stephen and crew member William Hadden, and third from left Frederick Kirkness

The 1970 disaster marked the third time that a lifeboat from Fraserburgh had been lost.

The north east town had previously faced tragedy in 1953 and 1919.

While on service with the RNLI between 1959 and 1970, The Duchess of Kent lifeboat launched 23 times and saved 13 lives.

Coxswain of the current lifeboat Vic Sutherland said: “Their sacrifice lives long in the memory here at the station and they are never far from our thoughts each time we answer the pager.”

A service of remembrance will take place at 14:00 GMT at Old Parish Church, Fraserburgh, followed by a wreath laying ceremony at the statue marking the disaster outside the town’s lifeboat station.



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