Two recovered, two still missing after RAF planes crash in Moray Firth
TWO RAF crew members were feared dead last night, with the condition of another two unknown, after a pair of Tornado GR4 fighter jets crashed off the Scottish coast.
• Two aircraft went down in the Moray Firth, around 25 miles south of Wick, shortly before 1.40pm
• RAF search and rescue helicopters scrambled from Lossiemouth along with RNLI and coastguard
• Two aircraft have been lost, with two people feared dead and taken to Raigmore Hospital in Inverness and two unaccounted for
A major search-and-rescue operation was launched to scour an area 25 miles south of Wick in the Moray Firth following the incident yesterday afternoon.
Two people were “recovered” from the sea by helicopter and taken to hospital after the crash yesterday afternoon, but no update on their condition was available last night. Their colleagues remained “missing” after hours of searching.
The RAF said the reason for the crashes remained “uncertain”, but insisted the aircraft were “operated as safely as possible”.
The £30 million jets, which can travel at over 1,400mph, are understood to have been on a training exercise from RAF Lossiemouth when the incident occurred, at around 1.:40pm.
Group Captain Ian Gale, Station Commander at RAF Lossiemouth, said: “It is with great regret that I must confirm the loss of two Tornado GR4 aircraft, from this station, in an incident in the Moray Firth today.
“The circumstances remain uncertain, but clearly this is a very serious incident.
“This incident involved four aircrew – all personnel from this station – and the thoughts of everyone here are with the families and friend of those involved.
“As I’m sure you will understand, this is an evolving situation and, as such, I am not prepared to comment at this time on their condition or speculate on the circumstances surrounding this incident.
“However, I can confirm that two individuals have been recovered and two remain unaccounted for.”
Two search-and-rescue Sea King helicopters from the Moray base were scrambled immediately after the alarm was raised.
They were joined by another helicopter from Stornoway Coastguard, while the RNLI sent out lifeboats from Wick, Invergordon and Buckie.
Cpt Gale added: “Rescue operations are continuing and I would like to record my gratitude for the ongoing efforts of all those involved.
“I am confident that the Tornado aircraft on this station are operated as safely as they possibly can be. However, today’s incident is a stark reminder that the military operations and training we conduct are not without risk.
“What happened today is under investigation and more details will be released by the Royal Air Force in due course.”
The Ministry of Defence confirmed that one of the two-seater aircraft had been spotted in the sea shortly after the search was launched, while the other was still being regarded as “missing”.
All crew are equipped with emergency location beacons and two of the crew members were soon located in the sea and airlifted to Raigmore Hospital in Inverness.
All Tornado aircraft are understood to have been grounded while the incident continues.
SNP defence spokesman and Moray MP Angus Robertson said: “It is very disconcerting for anyone with any connection with RAF Lossiemouth to learn that there has been an accident involving two RAF Tornado jets.
“They can operate at very high speeds, of over 1,000mph, and at nearly sea level. We know two people have been recovered and flown to hospital, but the search continues for the others.
“The Tornado operates with a pilot and navigator and there are real concerns about the second aircraft which has been classed as missing.”
He said the incident outlined the dangerous jobs aircrew do, even on training exercises, adding: “We appreciate all the work these people do. All our thoughts go out to everyone at RAF Lossiemouth and in Moray who are affected.”.
A spokesman for the Marine and Coastguard Agency said: “We were contacted at 1:45pm by the Rescue Co-ordination Centre at Kinloss.
“We responded to the request and the Coastguard helicopter and three lifeboats have joined a search, also involving two helicopters from RAF Lossiemouth.”
Developed in the 1960s and 1970s, the aircraft were flown in action during operations in Libya last year. The jet has undergone several upgrades.
First Minister Alex Salmond said: “This is clearly a very serious incident and my thoughts are with the loved ones of those affected.
“I understand rescue services have done all they can to help with the situation and offer my thanks to all those involved. The Scottish Government stands ready to offer any necessary assistance, and we will make a further statement once more details are confirmed.”
An RNLI spokesman said : “Two people have been picked up by helicopter from the Moray Firth after two Tornado jets crashed off the north coast of Scotland.”.
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Tuesday 21 May 2013
Temperature: 7 C to 17 C
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