RAF Jets Collide During Training Flight, Killing Airmen Aboard
LONDON (AP) _ Two Royal Air Force Tornado jet fighters collided during a night training flight over northwest England and the RAF said today that three airman were killed and the fourth was missing and presumed dead.
The RAF said in a statement that two bodies were found before dawn in wreckage strewn over the countryside near the village of Milburn and the third body was later found in the same area.
The village, in the Cumbrian hills, is about 240 miles northwest of London.
Rescue helicopters with powerful lights and a hill rescue team on foot rushed to the remote, sparsely populated area after the two-seater fighters collided Tuesday night.
The area is regularly used for low-level training flights, with military jets skimming just a few hundred feet over hills and farm buildings as pilots practice avoiding radar detection by flying under the beams.
An eyewitness, Alan Knell, landlord of the Stag Inn in Milburn, told the British Broadcasting Corp. in a radio interview:
″A big red ball (of fire) came in the sky. I didn’t know whether it was the sun coming up. It was just a mass of bright red ... and then rockets and flares went off and then there was another sort of explosion. The noise was absolutely tremendous.″
Knell said the planes narrowly missed the pub. He said there had been a lot of low-level flights earlier in the day.
The RAF said this year that it would modify its Tornado fighters because of earlier collisions, but gave no date for completion of the modifications. The decision followed a Defense Ministry report in May on a December 1986 nighttime incident in which one RAF Tornado flew into the back of another.
The report called for improved exterior lighting and other changes so pilots can assess distances better. All the crewmen involved in the 1986 collision survived.
Currently, 220 Tornados are in service in Britain and another 165 are being built for the RAF at a cost of $30 million each.
The Tornado was jointly developed and built by Britain, West German and Italy and first came into service in 1979.
In the previous most recent accident involving a Tornado, two RAF crewmen were killed when the Tornado they were in crashed in West Germany in May.
Legislator Dale Campbell-Savours of the opposition Labor Party said after visiting the scene of Tuesday night’s collision accused Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative government of ignoring warnings about the dangers of low-level training flights.
″The whole program is completely out of control,″ he charged.