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Saturday, December 19, 1998 Published at 03:31 GMT


Harrier crash inquiry begins

Inquiry officers will sift through the charred evidence to establish what went wrong

A thorough investigation is beginning into why an RAF Harrier jump jet crashed into a field, killing its pilot.

Air Force investigators are expected to spend the day sifting through the burned wreckage of the aeroplane which plummeted to the ground in County Durham.

The crash site, north of Stainton village, near Barnard Castle, County Durham, was sealed off to prevent interference with evidence.

The GR7 Harrier jet, from RAF Wittering, in Lincolnshire, was on a routine training exercise with two other harriers when it crashed, killing RAF Group Captain David Haward.

A Ministry of Defence spokesman said Group Captain Haward was an experienced pilot who was commissioned into the RAF in 1971 and was awarded the OBE in 1995.

Mr Haward, 45, was only promoted a week ago to Group Captain and was the most senior pilot on the base. He was married with two children.

Rescue attempt

As the jet plunged into the ground, colleagues raised the alarm and a rescue helicopter from RAF Boulmer was scrambled to the scene.

It is unclear whether the 600mph Harrier clipped overhead power cables and Squadron Leader Chris Taylor said that possibility will be investigated as part of an overall inquiry.

She added: "We cannot as yet determine what caused this crash. "I cannot confirm or deny the possibility of hitting a power line until the investigation is carried out.

"We will be on site early morning to start removing the wreckage."

But locals said that despite power losses in their homes they had not seen the aircraft hitting overhead cables.

A Ministry of Defence spokesman confirmed the harrier was on a routine mission and not on any specialist trials in connection with the current Gulf crisis. The Harrier was not armed.

The frontline single-man fighter, a 50ft by 30ft aircraft, has the operational capacity to carry up to 16 bombs or 10 wing-attached rockets and is one of the RAF's flagship combat craft.

Michael Littlefair, a local farmer, said: "I was about two miles away and I saw two planes flying parallel, when one of them just flipped 90 degrees and crashed into the ground.

"There was a huge explosion and fireball."

Another farmer, Brian Robson, ran to the scene after seeing the harrier suddenly bank.

"There was very little debris above the ground and the plane seemed to have ploughed into the soil.

"It was obvious there was nothing we could do."

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