On Monday, 10 February 1998, at around 10:00 AM, I called Steve to ask if he and Julia still wanted picking up from their home on the island and flying to Glasgow International. His response that Julia had gone out early for a morning walk with Chip, their dog, and not yet returned sent a shiver down my spine.
By the time I rang Snowy, at noon, with Julia not returned, and no sign of Chip, the coastguard had been alerted and airborne in the last hour. At the search base, forty or fifty people had come together to volunteer. I set about making a plan for how we would divide up to set about the search.
By evening there was no sign of Julia or Chip. The coming of dark rapidly raised the level of concern. The well-equipped Sea-King chopper had had no luck.
By this time, Steve was beside himself with anxiety, fearing the worst. In truth, there were several areas along the bluff where walkers must be particularly careful. But Julia knew the dangers and always stayed clear. Steve didn’t give up searching through the night, and every volunteer continued to search in a night quickly lowering in temperature. Friends prepared food and hot drinks and distributed as each search section was completed, and a new one began.
Steve, visibly pale, was showing signs of emotional breakdown. In fifteen years of working together, it was the first time I ever saw him in any way unsure of himself.
Snowy and I set off in great trepidation, knowing the coastguard had failed to locate Julia in the daylight hours and were then grounded due to fog. After searching all night and failing to find Julia, we still believed there would be a happy outcome.
At 5:30 AM on Tuesday morning, the coast guard’s yellow Sea-king helicopter took to the skies. It was a sharp, clear frosty morning. The temps had dropped below freezing during the night. By 6:00 AM the coastguard reported what looked like a rockslide. Four of us, with Snowy driving, piled into a land rover and headed back to a point previously searched.
I gave the chopper crew a thumbs-up when we reached the position of the rockfall. We could later confirm, poor Julia had, for whatever reason, gone too close to the cliff edge, which had crumbled away beneath her feet and sent her on the 200 hundred -foot slide to the bottom. The next half hour exists only in snapshots in my memory.
When we found Julia, she was with her sheepdog Chip, still on a leash, buried beneath rock and slate. She was barely alive. Chip, sadly, was dead. It seemed impossible Julia was still alive as the helicopter climbed into the sky.
Today, being 5000 miles away, I can wish him and Julia, an incredibly happy wedding anniversary.
Julia is a wheelchair user since that awful day. Steve, the man who feels the brunt of my ridiculous life’s anger, is my truest friend.
Happy fortieth wedding anniversary you two.