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Whaley Bridge

  • Terry McDermott
  • Interview by: Jess Boydon


I went up there on day one and I looked it

and I thought quietly to myself,

"I don't think we're going to be able to do this,

there's an awful lot of water in that dam,

there's no real access to get our pumping equipment in."

And there was something called a "rain bomb" coming

in 48 hours.

The Met Office told us that we were going to have

several months' worth of rain in one day,

and it was all going to land on Whaley Bridge.

And the worry was that

if any water was going to overtop the dam again,

that would be critical.

So on that first day looking at it,

I was uncomfortable about what could be achieved

and whether it could be achieved before this rain hit.

The man who looks after dams in the UK,

he was at the incident,

I asked him, "What would happen if we didn't do anything?"

And he said,

"That's not an option.

If you do nothing at this site it will collapse,

because water will overtop and undermine

the clay in the soil underneath,

and eventually it will go.

And it will go all at once, like a sandcastle on a beach,

it won't be a gradual thing,

and there'll be a few hundred million liters

of water released."

And the consequences of that

would have been catastrophic for Whaley Bridge,

they would have been inundated.

So I think it's important to say

the Chinook was one part of a three part plan

to resolve the incident,

but it was a very critical part of it.

One of the aims was to stop water coming into the reservoir;

the second thing was to remove as much water from the dam

as possible;

and the third thing was obviously to put

a temporary, but robust, fix on the dam

using limestone bags.

So it very quickly became apparent that

the only way to get limestone bags, one ton each,

placed with precision and care,

onto an unstable structure,

such as a dam that is damaged,

would be to do that very delicately with

a Chinook helicopter.

Fortunately, Derbyshire is littered with limestone quarries.

If you want limestone in the UK,

a lot of it comes from Derbyshire,

and we were able through our emergency planning department

at the counter,

to be able to make those links very quickly

and resource something in the region of 600 limestone

(Chinook's rotors buzzing)

and the Chinook would fly to and from the dam

on 10 minute return flights,

placing these one ton bags in place, very carefully.

It's not just the aircraft,

it's the absolute skill of the pilots,

and the crews that do the slinging

to get the stone bags onto it,

and to sight the aircraft over the dam with precision,

and to release at the right time.

Watching it,

you are very, very aware that you are dealing with people

who are absolutely at the top of the game

in an aircraft that demands your attention.

  • Whaley Bridge

    © Whaley Bridge

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