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Friday, October 22, 1999 Published at 21:54 GMT 22:54 UK


Two killed in RAF jet crash

It is the 35th Hawk that has crashed since 1982

An RAF jet has crashed into a building in Cumbria, killing the two crew aboard and injuring a van driver but miraculously missing a village.

The RAF has named the dead men as Squadron Leader Mike Andrews, 38, divorced, of Hampshire, and Flight Lieutenant Steve Todd, 28, married, of Grantham, Lincolnshire.

They were both stationed at RAF Leeming.

Officials believe the plane clipped trees before hitting the van on a railway bridge at the village of Shap, between Penrith and Kendal.

The BBC's Kevin Bocquet: "The aircraft broke up into fragments on impact"
It then ploughed into an empty barn before disintegrating across a railway line. Several nearby houses were also damaged by debris.

The pilot was hailed a hero after residents said he appeared to have steered the aircraft away from the centre of the village rather than eject.

[ image: The pilot was hailed a hero for avoiding Shap]
The pilot was hailed a hero for avoiding Shap
The village's road-sweeper John Lowis, 32, said: "I think he was avoiding the village. The plane was banking instead of flying flat and the pilot obviously knew the aircraft was in trouble.

"They could have ejected a mile or two away but he obviously thought the plane could hit the village and waited until he was almost clear of the last building before he couldn't keep it up any more."

Eye-witness Keith Kelly: "It clipped a van on the bridge"
Another eye witness, Kevin Wharton, said: "I kept expecting to see the pilot eject and get out - he would have had time to do it.

"But if he had got out the plane would have been completely out of control and it could have hit the school or the houses.

"I believe the pilot sacrificed his own life to save others. It could have been another Lockerbie."

[ image: The building was completely demolished]
The building was completely demolished
The Ministry of Defence said that the two air crew had been on a training mission from RAF Leeming in North Yorkshire.

The West Coast Main Line - the main rail route between Scotland and England - has reopened, but Virgin trains expect disruption and late running until Saturday afternoon.

The A6 is expected to be blocked until Saturday morning.

Mike Cox, spokesman for Cumberland Royal Infirmary, said the 38-year-old van driver was being detained overnight for observation. He was described as having minor burns but no serious injuries.

[ image: The van driver had a
The van driver had a "miraculous" escape
About 50 local residents have been evacuated from nearby houses, in case of hazardous materials leaking from the wreckage

Resident Tracy Fraser, 34, was in her cottage only yards from the crash scene with children Tim and Rochelle, both aged two, when the plane crashed.

She said: "I was in the house making the children's lunch when there was this enormous bang. The electricity went off. I thought an aircraft had landed on the house.

[ image: RAF crash investigators are already on the scene]
RAF crash investigators are already on the scene
"There are bits of plane everywhere. It is just awful. We can't believe it has happened."

"They are always doing low flying over here, but they usually miss the houses."

She said one house had part of a gable end missing and several windows in others were smashed.

The plane disintegrated on impact, with the only recognisable part of the plane's wreckage to be seen from the road being an RAF logo which lay at the base of a tree a few yards from the damaged farm building.

[ image: The plane disintegrated on landing]
The plane disintegrated on landing
It is the 35th Hawk that has crashed since 1982, but RAF spokesman Tony Parrini said the aircraft had an excellent safety record.

"It is the aircraft flown by the Red Arrows. It has been in service for a long time and its record is extremely good," he said.

Aircraft accident investigators were arriving at the scene, and a search was under way for the Hawk's black box to try to determine the cause of the crash.

Mr Parrini added that as neither of the pilots had ejected, there would be two potentially explosive ejection cartridges at the scene.

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