A HITCHIN Royal Navy veteran who survived one of the worst peacetime disasters in Royal Navy Reserve history has died at the age of 70.

Chris Hales was a leading seaman on the minesweeper HMS Fittleton in 1976 when it capsized after a collision with another ship in the North Sea, killing 12 men.

Mr Hales survived the tragedy, and went on to become a signalman for British Rail in the Hitchin area. He had also previously worked in the regular Royal Navy.

The ship had been taking part in a major Nato exercise, and rescue teams from the Dutch and West German navies rushed to the scene by helicopter and surface vessel to join their British colleagues in the hunt for survivors.

Afterwards, Mr Hales returned to the UK with the other survivors for a medical check up before they made their own way home.

Not long before his death, Mr Hales said of the disaster:

“We were taken to Colchester in the clothes we stood in, then dropped off at Kings Cross with travel warrants.

“I feel it could have been better dealt with, not that I’m in favour of counselling at any opportunity.

“Still, 30 years ago, people had different ideas.”

Mr Hales was educated at Bessemer School, Hitchin, before joining the Royal Navy in 1957.

He left the service in 1969 when he became the signalman in Hitchin, before rising to station manager at Kings Cross and Peterborough.

Although Mr Hales rarely spoke of the disaster, he stayed on in the Royal Navy Reserve and became a Petty Office at HMS President in London.

He died peacefully on a night out with friends last month, and his funeral, which was held earlier this month, was attended by fellow veterans and Fittleton survivors in Luton earlier in March.