Orkney lifeboat tragedy remembered 50 years on

A village is to mark 50 years since a lifeboat disaster which devastated the small community.

Eight men from Longhope on Orkney were lost when their boat capsized in a fierce storm on March 17, 1969.

The volunteer RNLI crew covering one of the wildest outposts of the lifeboat network met their deaths while going to the assistance of a Liberian-registered cargo ship.

Longhope lost a quarter of its population, with seven women widowed and 10 children left without a father. Two women lost both husbands and sons.

The lifeboat in the Scottish Marine Museum in Ayr
The lifeboat in the Scottish Marine Museum in Ayr

The disaster was a key factor in hastening the development of self-righting lifeboats.

Sunday will see a day of commemoration organised by RNLI Longhope and the Longhope Lifeboat Museum Trust.

Leading the memorial will be Kevin Kirkpatrick, coxswain of the current Longhope Lifeboat.

Mr Kirkpatrick lost his father, uncle and grandfather in the disaster, as did his wife.

Despite this, both their son Jack and daughter Stella volunteer as crew members today.

He said: “This will be an emotional day for us all.

“The tragic loss of our eight lifeboat men and the ultimate sacrifice they made will never be forgotten here, but it is due to the strength and resilience of our local community that our lifeboat station continues and still operates from Longhope today.”

The lost lifeboat was located in the Pentland Firth the day after the tragedy and recovered with all but one man still inside.

To mark the anniversary a flotilla including RNLI lifeboats from Thurso, Stromness, Wick, and the current Longhope lifeboat, will congregate in Aith Hope to dip their flags as a mark of respect.

A service will take place at the memorial in Osmundwall Cemetery, and guests will congregate at the Longhope Lifeboat Museum and community hall for ceremonies to remember the lost men.

Further afield, flags at the RNLI’s base in Perth and its headquarters in Poole will be lowered to half-mast.

At the Scottish Maritime Museum in Irvine, where the vessel is housed, staff will mark the tragedy by holding a minute’s silence and laying a wreath by the boat.

Jacob Davies, lifesaving manager for the RNLI in Scotland, said: “As an organisation we are reminded of the terrible sacrifice that the crew made that night and remember the bravery that it takes to go to the aid of those in danger around our coast.”