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Thursday, 5 July, 2001, 05:34 GMT 06:34 UK
Plane crash 'white-out' theory
Mullach an Rathain
The plane crashed on Mullach an Rathain
The pilot of a light plane which crashed into a mountain in the West Highlands may have failed to see the peak in white-out conditions, according to a report.

Pilot Ewan Spalding and passenger Robert MacLean, both from Dingwall, died when their Cessna 152 crashed on the Mullach an Rathain peak in the Torridon hills in December.

The poor conditions and failure to leave a flight plan meant that the men's bodies were not discovered until February.

Crash investigators who compiled the accident report have recommended that light planes crossing difficult terrain should be fitted with emergency beacons.

Inverness Airport
The plane left Inverness Airport on 13 December
The two men set off from Inverness Airport on 13 December, heading to a business meeting in Benbecula in the Western Isles.

They never arrived, sparking a large scale search involving mountain rescue teams, RAF helicopters and even specialist surveillance Tornado jets.

However, it was 10 weeks before a hillwalker discovered the wreckage of the Cessna in the Torridon hills.

The Air Accidents Investigation Branch report, published on Thursday, said: "It is improbable that the occupants had seen the high ground before impact.

"Although the exact amount of snow that was on the mountain on the day of the accident is not known, it is possible that the pilot failed to see the mountain due to 'white-out' conditions in a snow shower."

Beacon recommendation

The report said that although the crash was not survivable, the search and rescue effort contrasted sharply with that for a Cessna crash in the Cairngorms in January in which survivors were rescued within three-and-a-half hours.

In the Cairngorms incident, rescue aircraft were able to home in on an emergency position-indicating rescue beacon.

The AAIB recommended that Civil Aviation Authority advise pilots in private planes flying over sparsely-populated areas or difficult terrain to fit their aircraft with an approved beacon.

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See also:

29 Dec 00 | Scotland
Fresh appeal on missing plane
19 Dec 00 | Scotland
Wife appeals for plane search help
17 Dec 00 | Scotland
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14 Dec 00 | Scotland
Aircraft search stepped up
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