Witness describes ‘shockwave’ as US military jet F/A-18 crashes near RAF Lakenheath killing pilot
PUBLISHED: 15:54 21 October 2015 | UPDATED: 11:46 22 October 2015
A pilot has died after an F/A-18 Hornet military jet crashed on farmland close to the Suffolk and Cambridgeshire border this morning.
A member of the public called Cambridgeshire Constabulary at 10.30am, to reports of a plane crash on farmland in Redmere, Shippea Hill.
The crash scene is west of the RAF Lakenheath base.
Police have cordoned off the immediate area which is on the site of P and G Sizer Temple Farm, outside Redmere.
The plane, an F/A-18 from VFMA 232 Red Devils based at Mirimar CF and belonging to the US Marine Corps, had taken off from RAF Lakenheath.
It is believed that the pilot died despite ejecting from the aircraft.
Visibility on the site is believed to be poor, with the crash taking place roughly half a mile from the farm.
Police are still investigating how many people were on board the jet, although it is believed the pilot was the only occupant.
A police spokesman said: “We can confirm that the aircraft was a military aircraft.
“It had taken off from RAF Lakenheath.
“There is believed to have been one person on board, and there has been one confirmed fatality.”
A Cambridgeshire Fire and Rescue Service spokesman said they were called just after 10.30am.
Military personnel from the USAF arrived on the scene together with an EOD truck, a bomb squad vehicle that contains highly sophisticated emergency equipment with robotic capabilities to examine crash scenes.
There are reports the plane encountered problems with refuelling shortly before the crash, but a spokeswoman for the US Marine Corps said she could not confirm this.
She told the Press Association: “We don’t know at this time if the pilot ejected from the aircraft. It is a one-seater aircraft so no one else was in it.”
Patrick Turner, 72, who lives near to the scene of the crash, said he felt the ground shake as the plane crashed and saw a fireball between 300 and 400 ft above the buildings.
Mr Turner said: “It sounded like the plane was coasting, then it sounded like he floored it, the noise was incredible.
“There was a huge bang and I felt the ground shake.”
Mr Turner, who was in his shed at the time of the crash ran out onto the road after hearing the bang and originally thought the buildings had been destroyed.
He then saw smoke coming up from behind the building.
He also saw the pilot eject from the plane. He said: “It looked like some sort of beacon had shot out.
“Once the parachute opened he floated across in front of me and ended up behind the trees.
“It was unbelievable, I’ve never seen anything like it.”
David Arnold was going about his normal working Wednesday morning when he heard an “almighty thud” go through his workshop.
“There was a shockwave which shook the entire building.
“It was more of a thud than an explosion. There are bits everywhere,” he added.
“There are parts of the plane strewn about a quarter or half a mile up the road.”
Mr Arnold, of Littleport, said that he had a customer driving up the road at the time of the crash.
“It shook his car – a Toyota Land Cruiser,” he said.
“He saw black smoke plume 200 feet up and a lot of flames.”
Mr Arnold, who works at A&C Auto Refinishes, added that he saw a helicopter arrive at the site.
“A helicopter flew over and it landed near to the crash site. I saw three people get out, they were running around – I guess to look for the pilot – but then they got back in the helicopter and flew around 300 feet further and re-landed.”
He added that the wreckage could be made up of numerous hydraulic pipes.
“Because it was misty, you could smell it like it was a bonfire.”
He added: “I would imagine the fuel load was quite down.”
A statement on the US Marine Corps website said: “A Third Marine Aircraft Wing F/A-18C Hornet belonging to Marine Attack Fighter Squadron 232 stationed at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar crashed in the vicinity of Royal Air Force Lakenheath, England at approximately 5:30 a.m. (EDT), today.
“United Kingdom authorities have officially confirmed the death of the pilot, but it is unknown at this time if the pilot ejected from the single-seat aircraft.
“The aircraft was transiting from Bahrain to Miramar in a flight of six aircraft when it crashed approximately six miles northwest of the airfield. The remaining five F/A-18C’s safely diverted to RAF Lossiemouth. The United Kingdom Coast Guard is currently on the scene of the crash site and is in close coordination with U.S. military officials.
“Our deepest condolences go out to the family and friends of the pilot. The cause of the crash is still unknown.”
On Facebook, Colonel Robert G. Novotny, 48th Fighter Wing Commander, said: “Friends, thanks for the private messages regarding the F-18 crash this afternoon.
“We are hard at work coordinating with the local responders and preserving all the evidence we can.
“We will have a statement shortly but it is so dynamic right now that we want to get some more facts.
“I know you understand....thank you for your patience”
Matthew Barzun, US ambassador to the United Kingdom, tweeted: “The loss in Cambridgeshire today is terrible news, my thoughts & prayers are with all involved.”
RAF Mildenhall released the following statement: “An incident involving a U.S. Marine Corps F/A-18 Hornet, which departed from RAF Lakenheath, occurred at about 11 a.m. today near Littleport, United Kingdom.
“Response efforts are under way and the incident is currently under investigation. More information will be released as it becomes available.”
F/A-18 Hornets first took to the skies in 1978, before being introduced on January 7, 1983.
Its primary users are the United States Navy, the United States Marine Corps, the Royal Australian Air Force and the Spanish Air Force.
It has a top speed of Mach 1.8 (1,034 knots, 1,190 mph or 1,915 km/h) at 40,000 ft or 12,190m.
More to follow.