Fraserburgh Lifeboat Loss 1970



21 JANUARY 1970

The Fraserburgh lifeboat, Duchess of Kent, was a good sea boat, but incapable of withstanding the conditions she met on Wednesday January 21, when she went to the rescue of the Danish fishing boat Opal, about 35 miles off Fraserburgh. Launched at 7.43 a.m., after Wick radio relayed a Mayday signal from the fishing boat, the crew faced a 3½-hour struggle to reach Opal in tumultuous seas, the wind increasing all the time, then gale force 8 to severe gale 9.

Crew from Fraserburgh’s lifeboat in 1970, including some of those lost in the disaster.
From left to right: Captain John Carter (LOM or Hon Sec as it was known then),
James Noble, Frederick Kirkness, John Buchan, Clive Rothery,
William Hadden, John Stephen (Coxswain).
Photo: RNLI Fraserburgh
[Grateful thanks to them for the use of this unique image]

Minutes after reaching the stricken vessel, the lifeboat was hit by a huge wave more than 30ft high, lifting the boat into the air, and cartwheeling it bow over stern, resulting in the loss of five of its six crew.

The bodies of four of the crew were found trapped inside the hull of the lifeboat when she was righted three hours later by a Russian cargo boat. The fifth man was Fred Kirkness, whose body was never found. Sole survivor John (known as ‘Jackson’) Buchan, who was acting as lookout on the deck when the wave struck, was thrown clear. He found himself on the surface, hauling himself on to the keel of the upturned lifeboat until he was rescued by a Russian lugger.

The tragedy left five widows and 15 youngsters without their fathers. The dead were coxswain John Crawford Stephen, the town’s assistant harbourmaster; Fred Kirkness, the lifeboat’s engineer; William Hadden, a Customs and Excise officer; fishworker James Buchan, and toolworker James Runcieman Slessor Buchan.

Click > here < to access the Board of Trade inquiry report into the loss of the lifeboat…

…and > here < for details of the recent RNLI Fraserburgh commemoration ceremony.

Frederick Alexander Kirkness was a Rousay man. Born in 1914, he was the son of Mark Mackay Kirkness, Quoyostray, and Martha (Mattie) Wards of Longhope, a teacher at Wasbister school. On Tuesday April 9th 1946, in St Magnus Cathedral, Kirkwall, Fred married Maisie Robina Mainland of Westness Farm. They had a son, Colin, who became a Professor of Ophthalmology at the University of Glasgow.

Fred Kirkness playing pipes at the head of a wedding procession at
Nears, Rousay. July 19th 1956.
[Courtesy of the Tommy Gibson Collection]
Fred with his wife Maisie and son Colin.
[Courtesy of the Rhoda Groundwater family collection].