Binham remembers anniversary of F1-11 jet crash

An ancient Norfolk church which narrowly escaped disaster when a military jet plummeted to earth 21 years ago will host a service to mark the anniversary of the crash.

On May 2, 1990, the peace of a spring afternoon in Binham, near Wells, was shattered when an American F1-11 fighter plane nose-dived in a spectacular fireball just 300m from the village's medieval priory.

At the time, stunned onlookers spoke of an explosion which left a massive crater littered with burning metal, while falling debris damaged several properties – although no-one on the ground was injured.

On Sunday those stories will be recounted at a thanksgiving service and exhibition at Binham Priory.

David Frost, secretary of the Friends of Binham Priory, said eye-witnesses reported that the course of the doomed jet seemed to have deviated at the last minute, taking it away from the former Norman monastery and surrounding houses.

'There was a lot of minor damage to properties but, considering how close it was to the village and the priory, you could almost call it a miracle,' he said.

'Some people say it was heading directly for the priory – so it would be nice to think it was divine intervention.

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'Everyone was just relieved no-one was killed.

'People still talk about it a lot around here, but the village has changed a lot in 21 years so we thought it would be nice to do something to remember it. There were many people in the village who saw the plane coming over and I would hope to see some of them on Sunday.'

After the accident, farm workers and villagers raced to help the US pilot and his weapons systems officer, who both ejected to safety and landed at nearby Wighton. They had been on a low-level training flight from RAF Lakenheath.

The idea for the thanksgiving service came from Jane Wilton, whose holiday cottage in Binham was damaged when one of the aircraft's actuators smashed through the roof of her living room.

The event will begin at 11am on Sunday, followed by an informal reception. Visitors will also get the chance to talk to witnesses, and view an exhibition of photographs collected by villagers and archives from the US Air Force.

It includes aerial images showing how close the crash site was to the 900-year-old priory.

'The priory has been there a long time, and this event 21 years ago really could have destroyed it,' said Mr Frost. 'It was that close.'

But Mr Frost said there would be no aircraft parts in the display, as every scrap of debris had been taken away by crash investigators in the aftermath. 'The Americans were hugely relieved that there was no more damage or injury, and they sent recovery teams to sweep up all the bits and pieces,' he said.

Staff from RAF Lakenheath have also been invited to attend the event.

chris.hill@archant.co.uk

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