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Thursday, 5 December, 2002, 23:07 GMT
Hero pilot killed in Harrier crash
Sea Harrier
Both pilots ejected from the Sea Harrier
A decorated pilot described as a legend in the Royal Navy has died after his Sea Harrier jet crashed on take-off at RAF Wittering in Cambridgeshire.

Commander Martin London, 43, was killed after he and a fellow crew member - who suffered non-life threatening injuries - ejected from the stricken plane.

The Ministry of Defence said Commander London was "the Royal Navy's most distinguished and experienced serving Sea Harrier pilot".


A great pilot and great friend to a whole bunch of people

Commander Dickie Payne
RNAS Yeovilton
A charismatic veteran of 24 years service, Commander London - known as Jack - had served in the Gulf, the former Yugoslavia and Sierra Leone.

His bravery had been recorded on BBC One's 999 programme just last week in a reconstruction of a dramatic incident that saw the pilot showered with shards of Perspex and plunged into temperatures of -60C when his cockpit shattered at 40,000ft.

In circumstances where many pilots would have ejected, he managed to land the Harrier safely on its aircraft carrier despite it initially spinning out of control.

Formidable reputation

The incident - which left him with windburn to the eyes because of the speed of the descent - earned him the Queen's Commendation for Bravery in the Air in 1998.

Commander London had also built up a formidable reputation as a trainer of young pilots, becoming known for his desire to keep flying rather than seeking promotion by pursuing desk jobs.

Lieutenant Commander Martin London
Commander London appeared in a documentary
He told the BBC: "The job is absolutely brilliant, it's the best thing I can ever think of doing. Its the lure of flying - it is just so exciting."

An inquiry has now been set up to find out how the accident happened.

Commander London, 43, was instructing his crewmate, a lieutenant who has not been named, in the T8 trainer jet.

They were attempting a normal take-off rather than the Harrier's trademark vertical take-off.

It is not yet known who was in control of the aircraft when the crash happened.

Two RAF rescue helicopters were scrambled from RAF Leconfield in East Yorkshire and RAF Wattisham in Suffolk to join the rescue operation.

Bravery award

Both men were from the Royal Naval Air Station in Yeovilton, Somerset and were on attachment to Wittering, which is known as the home base of the Harrier.

Friends and colleagues at RNAS Yeovilton painted a picture of a man known as much for his pastoral care of young pilots as his training techniques.

Commander Dickie Payne said Navy fliers had lost a "great pilot and great friend to a whole bunch of people".

"He's been an instructor, he's taken countless numbers of pilots through their training.

"Even when you'd come back from the front line he would be in the back checking you out. This is a particularly sad day for us."

Commander London was originally from Cornwall and had one child.


Click here to go to Cambridgeshire

Click here to go to BBC Cornwall
See also:

02 Aug 02 | England
10 Oct 01 | England
21 Apr 99 | UK
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