Bird could have caused Tornado crash

CHRIS BISHOP A £30m Tornado bomber from RAF Marham could have been brought down by a bird strike, an aviation expert has said.

CHRIS BISHOP

A £30m Tornado bomber from RAF Marham could have been brought down by a bird strike, an aviation expert said last night.

Both crew members ejected safely from the 1,400mph GR4 jet, moments before it crashed into The Wash on a routine training mission on Tuesday. They were plucked from the sea by Sea King air-sea rescue helicopters and airlifted to hospital, where they are being treated for back injuries.

The Tornado GR4, which came down on a practice bombing run at Holbeach Range, off the Lincolnshire coast, is the third Marham jet to crash on a training mission in four years.

Andrew Brookes, former RAF bomber pilot and director of the RAF Advanced Staff College, said: “I've flown on that range and you get birds up there.

“Birds are one of the greatest risks of low flying. They can smash windscreens or go into engines - it's like firing a frozen chicken at your windscreen at 500mph.”

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Mr Brookes, who was the last operational RAF commander at the Greenham Common cruise missile base, said pictures of the wreckage of the aircraft offered other possible explanations for the crash.

“It hasn't blown up in mid-air, so you assume some major catastrophe has happened, like the engines have stopped or the electrics have gone, so the crew can't control it. In those circumstances, the crew can't go anywhere other than bang out.”

The wreckage of the Tornado was still scattered across tidal mud flats around a mile off the Lincolnshire coast yesterday, as an RAF board of inquiry flew down from RAF Lossiemouth to begin investigating the cause of the crash. Defence chiefs are deciding whether the RAF or Navy should lead the salvage operation.

In 2004, another GR4 crashed into the North Sea off the coast of Northumberland. The pilot and navigator ejected moments before the plane plunged into the sea about nine miles off Newton Point, around 40 miles north of Newcastle Upon Tyne.

And in May 2002, a Tornado, also from Marham, crashed into the River Humber. Both crew members ejected safely.

The Marham aircraft's crew were yesterday said to be in good spirits in hospital. Both were airlifted to the Queen's Medical Centre, Nottingham, which specialises in back injuries cause by ejecting from aircraft.

Sdn Ldr Rem Merrick, from RAF Marham, said: “They've suffered no serious injuries. The navigator was sitting up in bed this morning. We're hoping to have them back on the base by the weekend.”