Strathdon helicopter mystery solved at last

The Strathdon helicopter mystery from 1974 has finally been solved
The Strathdon helicopter mystery from 1974 has finally been solved

The mystery behind a puzzling Strathdon photograph discovered last year has finally been solved.

Amongst a bundle of old slides donated to the organisers of the Lonach Gathering was an intriguing picture of a helicopter apparently being jump-started by a car on the A944, the main road through the village of Bellabeg where the games take place.

Now, months after a public appeal, the tale of the baffling picture has been revealed - and a member of the Lonach Highland and Friendly Society held the answer.

In 1974, James McIntosh, who was brought up in Strathdon and runs the Lecht Ski Centre, was working for Sunningdale-based Yellow Bird Air Services which owned the Bell 47G-5 helicopter.

The firm was contracted to spread fertiliser on young trees on the Isle of Mull and as the helicopter was due a service, James and American pilot Don Ambabo decided to head to Strathdon for the weekend and carry out the service there, before they flew to Mull.

Assisted by the local policeman, who halted the traffic, the pair landed on the road on the Friday evening before wheeling the helicopter to the cover of the local garage.

Over the weekend, James and Don serviced and washed down the helicopter with the help of fellow Lonach Highlander Archibald Stuart.

When they manoeuvred it back out on Monday morning for take-off, things didn’t quite go to plan.

James explained: “We wheeled the chopper out onto the road and went to fire up the engine and there was nothing.

“It was a piston-driven engine which can sometimes be difficult to start, especially after being hosed down and cleaned. Knowing that the local bus and other folks would be needing past soon we had to act quickly.

“As the battery on the helicopter is fairly small a car can jump start it, so I hijacked my father’s Rover.

“The road was at a standstill for about 10 minutes while we got the helicopter off the ground. It’s not every day a helicopter uses the main road through Strathdon as a helipad.”

Jennifer Stewart, secretary and chief executive of the Lonach Highland and Friendly Society, said: “It is brilliant to be able to discover the story behind the photograph, as it certainly had us scratching our heads when we found it.

“Stories and unusual events such as this are part of the fabric of our communities and it is important that we record them where we can.”