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Friday, 2 August, 2002, 20:42 GMT 21:42 UK
Crash jet recovery operation begins
Harrier crash
Pilot ejects seconds before the RAF Harrier crashes
A specialist RAF recovery team has arrived at the scene where a Harrier jet crashed in front of thousands of visitors to a Suffolk air show.

The pilot ejected, safely with seconds to spare, shortly after the engine failed as the Harrier performed at Lowestoft Air Show.

On Friday night the beach was cordoned off to keep people away from the crash site as a Ministry of Defence team began an investigation into the crash.

The specialist recovery team, from Wales, is examining the site but an RAF spokesman said the recovery operation could take two days.

Harrier crash
Flight Lieutenant Tony Cann parachutes to safety
The team is expected to start surveying the site after dawn on Saturday.

BBC reporter Kevin Burch, who was at the scene on Friday night, said with the low tide the Harrier, which went down in relatively shallow water offshore, was not visible.

The Harrier was coming to the end of its display, when it bows to the crowd before flying off, when the accident happened.

A spokesman for the organisers said at about 50 feet, there was apparently engine failure and the pilot, Flight Lieutenant Tony Cann, ejected. Lowestoft lifeboat brought him ashore.

Loud explosion

Flight Lieutenant Cann, who is based at RAF Wittering, Cambridgeshire, is not seriously hurt.

Crowds applauded him as he waved from a helicopter which was taking him to the James Paget Hospital in Gorleston for examination.

BBC reporter Guy Campbell witnessed the crash. He said the aircraft was flying about 50ft above the water when there was a loud explosion.

"The Harrier, one of the most popular parts of the show, was facing the crowd about 50ft from the edge of the sand," said Guy Campbell.

The pilot has a suspected leg injury - possibly a broken ankle

RAF spokesman

"It was about to do a favourite manoeuvre with the crowds - a bow - when there seemed to be some kind of huge engine loss.

"The jet began to fall towards the sea then there was an explosion as the hood of the cockpit blew off and we saw the pilot fly about 50ft into the air."

No-one in the crowd was injured.

An RAF spokesman said Flight Lieutenant Cann was being transferred to a specialist unit in Nottingham on Friday night.

"The pilot has a suspected leg injury - possibly a broken ankle.

"He has undergone scans, which were fine, at the James Paget Hospital to check for things like back injuries and is being transferred to Nottingham by helicopter."

It is routine for pilots who have ejected to be checked at the specialist unit at Queen's Medical Centre.

'Good safety record'

Military aircraft expert Nick Cook, of Jane's Defence Weekly, said that the 35m GR7 Harrier has had a "pretty good safety record".

"But if when it 'takes a bow' it gets engine failure then there is nothing to do but eject because it is not going forward at speed," he said.

Mr Cook said British air shows had a very high safety record and disasters such as last months tragedy in the Ukraine, where more than 80 spectators were killed, should not occur.

"In Britain we have very strict rules about air shows and aircraft have to be a minimum of 400 metres from crowds," he said.

More than 400,000 visitors had been expected to watch the second day of the Lowestoft Seafront Air Festival on Friday.

The BBC's Guy Campbell
"At no point was the crowd in danger"
Click here for the latest pictures
from the Lowestoft Seafront Air Festival

Click here to go to BBC Suffolk
See also:

02 Aug 02 | England
14 May 02 | Wales
24 Aug 00 | UK
14 Jul 99 | UK
19 Dec 98 | UK
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