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Last Updated: Friday, 6 January 2006, 19:34 GMT
Jet tank fell 'inches' from man
Les Sprason
Les Sprason was cycling along the road where the tank fell
A cyclist said he thought he was going to die after an auxiliary fuel tank from an RAF Harrier jet fell and missed him by inches in Devon on Friday.

A military investigation is now under way following the incident, which happened when the aircraft was on a routine training flight.

The empty, 10ft-long metal tank landed on a grass verge near the A3124 road at Winkleigh, police said.

The RAF Cottesmore aircraft made a safe emergency landing at RNAS Yeovilton.

I thought, well I am going to die
Les Sprason
Winkleigh resident Les Sprason said he escaped death by inches as the fuel tank spiralled over his head while he cycled along the country road.

"I thought, well I am going to die because it is going to explode, and this is me finished," he said.

"I was aware of a jet coming from my right-hand side at a very low altitude.

"I was aware something broke away from the aircraft and was spinning and somersaulting through the air," he said.

He said the tank then impacted in a field with a "dull thud".

Farmer Anthony Parkhouse thinks he also had a lucky escape.

Fallen tank being recovered
The tank has now been recovered
"Two seconds later it would have been in the cattle shed," he said.

"There was a strong smell of aviation fuel."

Mr Sprason said locals had repeatedly called on the RAF to halt low flying in the area.

A Yeovilton spokesman said the auxiliary tank "came away" from the aircraft.

"The pilot was surprised the tank came off," said the spokesman, adding that it was not jettisoned.

"We will have to investigate what happened.

"It is not the first time it has happened, but it is unusual."

Cordoned off

Following the loss of the tank the Harrier made a safe emergency landing at Yeovilton, with a second auxiliary tank still attached to the aircraft.

An RAF spokesman said the pilot would be interviewed about the incident. The Harrier was undamaged and no-one was hurt in the incident.

The area was cordoned off and the road was closed after advice that the tank was potentially dangerous and could explode.

Devon Fire and Rescue examined the tank and ascertained it was empty, but because of the danger of fire from vapours the road remained closed.

Police said military units had recovered the tank.


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