F-18 Crash: Witness praises US Marine Corps pilot for steering plane away from homes

Emergency servies at the scene of a plane crash on Redmere Drove near Shippea Hill. Picture: Matthew

Emergency servies at the scene of a plane crash on Redmere Drove near Shippea Hill. Picture: Matthew Usher.

The US Air Force was touched by tragedy in our area again yesterday after an F/A-18C which took off from RAF Lakenheath crashed, killing the pilot.

Emergency servies at the scene of a plane crash on Redmere Drove near Shippea Hill - Military Police

Emergency servies at the scene of a plane crash on Redmere Drove near Shippea Hill - Military Police at the gate of the accident site. Picture: Matthew Usher.

The Marine Corps aircraft had just taken off from the Suffolk airbase at around 10.30am when it crashed in fields at Redmere, north of Shippea Hill.

The US 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing later confirmed the death of the pilot, named as Taj Sareen, as US officials managed the crash site and began an investigation into its cause.

A flight of six aircrafts had taken off from Lakenheath, with the crash taking place around six miles northwest of the base. The remaining five F/A-18Cs diverted to RAF Lossiemouth.

The aircraft was transiting from Bahrain to Miramar Air Station in California when it crashed.

Eye witness Karen Miles-Holdaway.

Eye witness Karen Miles-Holdaway. - Credit: Archant

A statement from the US Air Force (USAF) said the Coastguard was at the crash site and working with US military officials.

The statement added: 'Our deepest condolences go out to the family and friends of the pilot. The cause of the crash is still unknown.'

The plane was part of Marine Fighter Attack Squadron - VMFA-232 . The squadron was assigned to the Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force and was part of Operation Inherent Resolve, carrying out air strikes against Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

Karen Miles-Holdaway, 48, of Redmere, was in her garden, which backs onto the field where the jet came down.

Most Read

She said she thought the pilot had deliberately steered away from houses as he descended.

'It came over the houses much lower than they normally do,' she said. 'Then I heard the noise which I can only describe as like an afterburner noise, a huge sound and nothing like the jets we normally have over here.

'We didn't realise it had actually come down, it was not really one loud bang.

'I have to say the whole community is feeling for the pilot's family, and we send our condolences and prayers. I think that he could have ejected earlier, but was trying to avoid the houses and for that we are incredibly grateful,' she said.

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 300ft and 400ft above the buildings.

Mr Turner, a retired farmworker, 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 farm 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, of Littleport, said he was working at A&C Auto Refinishes and 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 200ft up and a lot of flames.'

He added: '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 300ft further and re-landed.'

The pilot was yet to be named as of yesterday evening, but condolences were shared on social media.

Col Robert Novotny, Commander of RAF Lakenheath, said on his Facebook page: 'Please keep the families, the unit and the US Marine Corps in your thoughts and prayers as we navigate this tragedy.'

Matthew Hancock, MP for West Suffolk, said: 'I am very sorry to hear of the aircraft crash near RAF Lakenheath and the death of its pilot. Those who fly from RAF Lakenheath serve our country as well as the United States, keeping us safe and free.'

Did you see the crash? Email andrew.fitchett@archant.co.uk