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Mountain rescue legend 'Heavy' Whalley awarded with top mountain accolade

By John Davidson

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A lifelong mountain rescuer who spent three years with the Torridon and Kinlochewe mountain rescue team has won a prestigious mountain award.

Dave Whalley – known to most people in mountaineering circles by his nickname 'Heavy' – is the 16th recipient of the Scottish Award for Excellence in Mountain Culture.

The announcement was made on Friday by the organisers of the Fort William Mountain Festival, who said that his distinguished service at the forefront of mountain rescue and mountain safety education in Scotland has spanned more than 40 years.

David ‘Heavy’ Whalley is the latest to receive the Scottish Award for Excellence in Mountain Culture. Picture: Dave Macleod
David ‘Heavy’ Whalley is the latest to receive the Scottish Award for Excellence in Mountain Culture. Picture: Dave Macleod

Heavy was a member of the Royal Air Force (RAF) Mountain Rescue Service for 37 years, where the primary task was dealing with air crashes. He was senior team leader during the Lockerbie Disaster in December 1988 when 270 victims of a terrorist attack lost their lives, and was also involved in the hunt for survivors when a Chinook helicopter crashed on Mull of Kintyre in 1994 – four RAF crew and 25 terrorism experts were killed.

He was team leader of RAF Leuchars, RAF Kinloss, and deputy team leader at RAF Valley in North Wales. He spent the last four years of his RAF career working in the Aeronautical Rescue Co-ordination Centre at RAF Kinloss.

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In his early career as a catering accountant in the RAF in the 1970s, he was focused on getting into their search and rescue team. He was initially rejected because, at seven stone and five foot four inches, he was deemed to be too skinny. However, as a veteran of countless rescues, he quickly earned his nickname, Heavy, for his size and huge spirit.

After leaving the RAF he joined the Torridon and Kinlochewe team. serving with them for three years until he retired.

The Scottish Award for Excellence in Mountain Culture, sponsored by JAHAMA Highland Estates, celebrates achievement, accomplishment and the spirit of adventure in the outdoors.

Heavy Whalley joins previous esteemed winners including Dave Morris, Andy Nisbet, Jimmy Marshall, Myrtle Simpson, Ian Sykes, Karen Darke and Dr Hamish MacInnes in the Excellence in Mountain Culture Hall of Fame.

Heavy was a member of the executive of the Scottish Mountain Rescue Committee for over 20 years, serving for five years as the accident statistician and three years as chairman. He has been awarded the BEM, an MBE and the Distinguished Service Award for Service to Mountain Rescue.

He is both an honorary member of the Torridon and Kinlochewe MRT and president of the Search and Rescue Dog Association Scotland.

As an active climber and walker, he climbs every week and is a member of the Scottish Mountaineering Club and Moray Mountaineering Club. He has climbed in most parts of the world, has completed Scotland's 282 Munros seven times, and was a member of the successful 2001 Everest North Ridge Expedition.

Organisers of the festival described Heavy as a true ambassador for mountain safety and culture, who has dedicated much of his life to the mountains in Scotland, Europe and the Himalayas. He continues to share his passion for the outdoors and his vast experience and expansive knowledge of mountain rescue by teaching and lecturing on mountain safety.

He said: "To be put forward for this award and named in the same group as the past winners of the Fort William Mountain Festival is so humbling. It is a great honour, thank you."

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