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Last Updated: Monday, 11 August, 2003, 07:21 GMT 08:21 UK
Watching tragedy unfold

By Tom Bourton
BBC News Online

As a service is held to mark 10 years since a tragic helicopter crash in which three teenage RAF cadets died at a north Wales lake, News Online's Tom Bourton remembers watching from the shore.

I was shocked to find it was 10 years since the tragedy - it really does not feel that long ago.

Helicopter crash in Llanberis
The lake was busy with holidaymakers on the day

I was on the lake that day, a 16-year-old on a canoe trip with a group of Venture Scouts.

When the helicopter first flew over, we thought the pilot was showing off.

But it quickly became clear it was more serious, as the aircraft started spinning and falling.

We did not actually see it hitting the water - we were in a small bay, and it disappeared below the treeline.

But I don't remember there being much of a noise.

Instantly, our canoeing instructor shot off round the corner of the bay, shouting at us to get back to the shore.

Silently and quickly, we did as we were told.

And then we waited.

I have no idea how long it was before the instructor came back - but he was clearly tired and shaken up.

Helicopter crash in Llanberis
The helicopter sank quickly after hitting the lake

He and a couple of other people had reached to the spot where the helicopter landed within seconds.

But it had sunk immediately.

Our instructor helped some of the crew out of the water - three RAF crew and one cadet survived.

He told us there were cadets still under water.

Quietly we packed up the minibus and left - there was nothing we could do, and it seemed morbid to stay.

Despite being so close to the tragedy itself, we struggled to get information about it.

I remember us all trying to listen to the radio in the bus, cursing the poor reception around Snowdonia as the signal kept cutting out.

I rang my mother a few hours later.

Helicopter crash in Llanberis
The helicopter was later recovered from the lake

"Watch the news" I told her.

"Are you on it?" was her immediate reply.

"No. Not really. I might be," I said.

The next day saw us at the newsagents, buying all the papers we could carry.

It was then we found out the ages of the cadets - one of them was waiting for his GCSE results, just like I was.

That, and the fact that I had been on similar RAF camps to the one they were on, brought the tragedy even closer to home.

When we returned home at the end of the week, we watched the video of the news that had been recorded.

It made me feel sick then, and still does now.

Memorial for helicopter tragedy victims
10 Aug 03  |  North West Wales
Bird 'crashes' Hawk jet
24 Jul 03  |  North Yorkshire
Crashed plane taken for inquiry
12 Jul 03  |  North West Wales

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