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Monday, 3 February, 2003, 15:41 GMT
Jet crash pilots' last words
Wreckage of one of the jets
Wreckage was found near the summit of Ben Macdui
The final words of two military pilots who died after ploughing into a mountain during a snowstorm have been played to a court martial.

Lieutenant Colonel Kenneth Hyvonen, 40, and Captain Kirk Jones, 27, of the United States Air Force were heard talking to an air traffic controller from the Royal Air Force.

After several minutes of exchanges with Lieutenant Malcolm Williams, all contact with the pilots was lost over the Cairngorm Mountains and no further American voices were heard.

The tape charted the last moments before the two F15 fighter jets crashed into Ben Macdui, near Aviemore, in March 2001.

Captain Kirk Jones
Captain Kirk Jones died in the accident

Flt Lt Williams, based at RAF Leuchars in Fife, denies causing the deaths of the two pilots at a court martial in Helensburgh, near Glasgow.

It is alleged the 47-year-old told the pilots to fly 2,500ft below the safety limit during the snowstorm.

He denies an alternative charge of professional negligence.

The tape, which lasted 20 minutes, was played on the sixth day of the hearing.

The sound was distorted and interspersed with background noise as the air traffic controller was heard giving altitude information to the pilots.

One American pilot, talking to the controller, was heard saying: "I would like to stick with you for a few more miles."

Lt Col Kenneth Hyvonen
Lt Col Hyvonen was the lead pilot

Minutes later, radio contact was lost.

A female controller was then heard speaking to rescue staff at RAF Lossiemouth.

She told the base: "We have suddenly lost radio contact with them (the US pilots) - don't know what you want to do about that."

Contact was lost "about six minutes ago", she said.

The trial later heard Flt Lt Williams' account of the contact with the pilots.

In a transcript of an interview read to the court martial he said the pilots had travelled over the Scottish-English border and were near Perth.

They said they wanted to "press on" to the north, but Flt Lt Williams wanted them to head towards Montrose to the east, where there was a recognised route for low-level descent.

He descended the pilots to 4,000ft, but he was not happy with the hand-over to air traffic control at RAF Lossiemouth to the north.

'Uneasy' feeling

While it should have taken a few seconds to brief controllers it had in fact taken nearly a minute.

It was as a three-way conversation between controllers at Leuchars and Lossiemouth and the pilots was taking place that contact with the F15s was lost.

Flt Lt Williams said in interview he felt "uneasy" immediately. He said he felt "frightened".

"Even when I went to the senior air traffic control officer, she said 'They will turn up'," he said.

When asked if he had made an error in advising them to descend to 4,000ft, he replied: "It was not an error."

The hearing has heard how Flt Lt Williams had returned to work on the day of the crash, following two weeks' compassionate leave after the death of his father.

It has also heard claims that the air traffic controller gave wrong information during his contact with the pilots.

The hearing continues.

Click here to go to BBC Suffolk
See also:

28 Jan 03 | Scotland
27 Jan 03 | Scotland
14 Mar 02 | Scotland
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