US pilot killed in F/A-18 Hornet crash near Lakenheath, UK police confirm
The jet was one of six returning from combat operations in the Middle East and reportedly failed to rendezvous with a fuel tanker before the crash occurred.
A US Air Force official confirmed the crash. However, US Navy officials have reportedly claimed they had no planes in the air when the fighter jet crashed near the British base.
A United States Air Force (USAF) offical has arrived at the scene together with an explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) truck and a bomb squad vehicle to examine the crash site.
Cambridgeshire police have confirmed the pilot was the only crew member to die in the crash.
According to Air Live, the aircraft crashed into farm land in Redmere, near the Suffolk border. Emergency services were alerted at 10.30am.
Witnesses report that they saw an explosion in the air before the aircraft came down.
One eye witness has paid tribute to the pilot who died in the crash. They told BBC News he steered the aircraft away from 20 houses to prevent others from being injured.
US Ambassador Matthew Barzun has also paid tribute to the pilot.
“The loss in Cambridgeshire today is terrible news, my thoughts and prayers are with all involved,” he said on Twitter.
RAF Mildenhall said it is currently investigating the crash and response efforts are underway.
“An incident involving a US Marine Corps F/A-18 Hornet, which departed from RAF Lakenheath, occurred at about 11am today near Littleport, United Kingdom,” it said in a statement.
“Response efforts are under way and the incident is currently under investigation. More information will be released as it becomes available,” it added.
‘All hell broke loose’
Local witness Patrick Turner, 72, of Redmere said he heard an aircraft, then all of a sudden “all hell broke loose.”
“I was outside in my shed and heard an aircraft coming over. All of a sudden all hell broke loose. The noise was terrible – I’ve never heard that before. I looked up to the sky but it was so foggy that I couldn’t see anything,” he told Cambridge News.
Another witness, named as Mr Turner, said he saw a “massive fireball.”
“The flames were huge. There was no way anyone was getting out of that alive. It’s certainly not the sort of thing you expect on your doorstep,” he told the paper.
“It was like something from a film.”
According to Associated Press, the US Embassy have confirmed the pilot was killed in the crash.
Despite the RAF prefix, Lakenheath is a United States Air Force base.
Emergency services are on the scene near Shippea Hill station near Ely, Cambridgeshire.
‘Unknown if pilot ejected from aircraft’
The US Marine Corps said it is still unknown whether the pilot ejected from the aircraft.
“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,” it said in a statement.
“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 US military officials.
“Our deepest condolences go out to the family and friends of the pilot. The cause of the crash is still unknown.”
A parachute was found on the crash scene.
‘We want more facts’
48th Fighter Wing Commander Colonel Robert G. Novotny said he is determined to “get some more facts.”
“Friends, thanks for the private messages regarding the F-18 crash this afternoon,” he said on Facebook.
“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.”
The McDonnell Douglas F/A-18 Hornet is an all-weather fighter jet which has been in service since 1983.
The aircraft is reported to have crashed around 6 miles north west of Lakenheath Airfield.
A Swiss F-18 crashed near the village of Glamondans in eastern France earlier in October.
The US Air Force has apologized for sharing a Back To The Future tweet showing a fighter jet with flames coming from its wings following Wednesday’s crash.
The force later deleted the post and said: “We apologize for the insensitivity of our #BackToTheFutureDay post. We pulled the post in light of recent events.”
This crash comes a year after an American fighter based at Lakenheath crashed near a Lincolnshire school.
In the past hour, more police and military vehicles have arrived at the scene in Redmere.
Cambridgeshire Police said an 800m (0.5 mill) cordon will remain in place.
The case will be passed on to the coroner on Thursday. Until then, emergency services say they will remain on the site “into the evening.”