Harrier jet pilot avoided buildings

A pilot whose plane crashed into a country road was today praised for fighting to avoid nearby buildings before ejecting to safety at the last minute.

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CRASH PILOT 'AVOIDED BUILDINGS'

By Aislinn Simpson, PA

A pilot whose plane crashed into a country road was today praised for fighting to avoid nearby buildings before ejecting to safety at the last minute.

The GR9 RAF Harrier jump jet exploded into a fireball just before 5pm today, narrowly avoiding an off duty police officer who was driving home from a local police station.

Witnesses described hearing a 'thunderous' noise and seeing a green jet flying low over the Sturdy's Castle pub just outside Kidlington in Oxfordshire.

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The Ministry of Defence confirmed that the aircraft and single pilot had been on the way to nearby RAF Fairford for an air tattoo.

Thames Valley police said the pilot had been treated for minor injuries at the scene by paramedics and no further casualties had been reported.

Witnesses at the scene said that as they ran towards the explosion, which was sending flames 25 feet into the air, a man who told them he was an off duty police officer staggered up the road towards them.

He was taken into the pub and called his wife, who arrived within minutes and helped to pick the glass fragments out of her husbands back, face and arms.

Graham Billinge, 58, from Langley in the new forest said he had been attending a training course at the pub when the crash happened.

He said: "It was quite a mind-blowing experience. We heard thunderous noise which was obviously a jet aeroplane that was extremely low - the noise was deafening - we rushed outside and as we rushed outside we saw, over the trees, the pilot parachuting down. There was then a thunderous crash and loads of smoke and flames and the plane had come down.

"The pilot could not have left it a minute too late. I don't know how he missed the hotel (Sturdy's Castle) and garage, but it was very, very close. I think he must have left it right up until the last minute and I think he deserves some praise for that because it could have been catastrophic."

The policeman who was nearly hit as he drove his Ford Escort home was spun 360 degrees by the force of the blast.

Mr Billinge said: "Some of us started to run down the road towards the incident and then a man came stumbling down the road shouting that he needed a mobile.'

Sam Wheelan, 34, said the police officer remained calm despite his ordeal. She said: "He was obviously a bit shell-shocked but was completely in control, as a policeman has to be I suppose. We brought him back here and I lent him my room to have a shower.'