US pilot missing after fighter jet crashes into North Sea

Search operation is under way following incident off northeast coast of England

A US air force F15E  fighter jet is pictured as it prepares to land at RAF Lakenheath in England on Monday. Photograph: Chris Radburn/AFP via Getty Images

A US air force F15E fighter jet is pictured as it prepares to land at RAF Lakenheath in England on Monday. Photograph: Chris Radburn/AFP via Getty Images

 

A search to find a US air force pilot whose single-seater fighter jet crashed into the North Sea off the northeast coast of England is under way.

The US air force F15C Eagle, from the 48th Fighter Wing, also known as Liberty Wing, based at RAF Lakenheath in Suffolk, crashed at about 9.40am on Monday while on a routine training exercise.

Col Will Marshall, commander of the wing, said he remains “hopeful that our Liberty Wing airman will be located and recovered”.

HM coast guard said it received reports that an aircraft went into the sea 119km off the coast of Flamborough Head in Yorkshire.

A search-and-rescue operation is continuing, with a coast guard helicopter and Bridlington and Scarborough RNLI lifeboats sent to the area.

The coast guard also sent a Mayday broadcast, resulting in other vessels nearby heading there.

Col Marshall said: “The cause of the crash is unknown at this time.

“Search-and-rescue efforts are currently under way but the pilot of the aircraft is still missing.

“We will provide updates as they become available while prioritising respect and consideration for the pilot’s family.

“We’re extremely grateful for the timely response of our UK counterparts in support of these recovery efforts and remain hopeful that our Liberty Wing airman will be located and recovered.”

The 48th Fighter Wing said in an earlier statement: “At the time of the accident, the aircraft was on a routine training mission with one pilot on board.

“The cause of the crash as well as the status of the pilot are unknown at this time, and UK search and rescue have been called to support.”

Safety record

The F15C is a model of jet that has been used by the US air force since 1979.

A senior RAF source said the aircraft has an “exceptional flight safety record”.

RAF Lakenheath is the “largest US air force-operated base in England”, its website says.

The 48th Fighter Wing, which has operated from the base since 1960, has more than 4,500 “active-duty military members”.

Its mission statement is to “provide worldwide responsive combat air power and support”.

In October 2014, an F15D fighter jet based at RAF Lakenheath crashed in fields near Spalding in Lincolnshire.

The pilot ejected safely, suffering only minor injuries, and no one on the ground was hurt.

A US air force investigation found that the crash was caused by the “angle of attack” of the aircraft and “imperfections” in the assembly of the jet’s nose cap.

In October 2015, US pilot Maj Taj Sareen died when his F/A-18 Hornet jet crashed on farmland near RAF Lakenheath.

A subsequent investigation found the 34-year-old did not report problems with his aircraft before take-off. – PA