Duke of Kent pays tribute to crew members who died in 1970 lifeboat disaster

The Duke of Kent joined the last surviving widow of a lifeboat disaster to lay a wreath in remembrance of the five men who died.

Edward, cousin of Queen Elizabeth II and president of the RNLI, laid the tribute at the lifeboat station in Fraserburgh, Aberdeenshire, with Pat Owen, whose husband James Buchan died in the Fraserburgh lifeboat disaster more than half a century ago.

The Fraserburgh lifeboat, the Duchess of Kent, capsized in gale-force winds on January 21 1970 while escorting another vessel to safety.

In a ceremony at the lifeboat station on Tuesday, the duke spoke to Mrs Owen and the families of other crew members who died: John Stephen, James RS Buchan and William Hadden; as well as relatives of the sole survivor of the tragedy, John Jackson Buchan.

Fraserburgh lifeboat station royal visit
The Duke of Kent, president of the RNLI, during his visit to the Fraserburgh lifeboat station in Aberdeenshire (Michal Wachucik/PA)

Speaking to Mrs Owen, the duke recalled their first meeting at the funeral more than 54 years ago.

He led the procession of an estimated 10,000 mourners, met families of those who died and attended the funeral to pay his own respects.

The disaster happened the year after the duke succeeded both his mother and father as president of the RNLI.

At the end of the visit on Tuesday, the duke and Mrs Owen laid a wreath at the foot of the remembrance statue, while pipers played a lament.

Pipers also welcomed Edward into the station where he met volunteers and staff.

He also spoke to two of the former crew who had served on the lifeboat alongside the five volunteers who died in the disaster: Albert Sutherland and Victor Sutherland Senior.

The duke presented the lifeboat station with the first flag of the new patronage of the King, whom the RNLI announced earlier on Tuesday succeeds Queen Elizabeth II as patron of the charity.

Fraserburgh lifeboat station royal visit
A new flag gifted to the RNLI in Fraserburgh by the Duke of Kent (Michal Wachucik/PA)

He said: “Today was a very special day for the RNLI and the charity’s longstanding heritage with the Royal Family since our foundation in 1824.

“Fraserburgh was a fitting host for our president’s 55th anniversary visit, with so many personal connections between the Kent Family and the station.

“The Duke has provided unwavering support to the RNLI for 55 years, visiting almost all the lifeboat stations around the UK and Ireland, attending countless lifeboat naming and station opening events and meeting crew members, fundraisers, supporters and staff.

“Our president’s warmth, generosity and understanding of our lifesaving work is incredibly valued by the charity and the time His Royal Highness spends with each volunteer is greatly appreciated by the institution.

“We also welcomed the news of our new Patron, King Charles III, this morning and there was an immense sense of pride across the Fraserburgh RNLI team as they became the first RNLI lifeboat station to fly our new house flag featuring the King’s Crown this afternoon.”

Edward presented three Chair letters of thanks to current crew of the Fraserburgh lifeboat: coxswain Ethan Harris and crew members Stephen Brown and Shane Richardson; as well as a chief executive’s commendation to Davy Sutherland, for the part they played in the rescue of four fishermen from a vessel that grounded and subsequently sank in October 2022.

Fraserburgh lifeboat’s coxswain mechanic, Vic Sutherland, said: “I would like to congratulate His Royal Highness on 55 years’ service to the RNLI and sincerely thank him for his continued support in Fraserburgh.

“The Kent Family has a long-running history with the lifeboat station here in Fraserburgh. The Duchess of Kent named our lifeboat in 1954, with the Duke visiting in 1970 and 1986. It really is humbling to know that the fondness is felt both ways.”

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