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Friday, 14 February, 2003, 16:15 GMT
Jet sightings 'accurate'
Wreckage of one of the jets
Wreckage was found near the summit of Ben Macdhui
Eyewitnesses who said they saw two US fighter jets before they crashed could not have confused them with other aircraft, a court martial has heard.

Test pilot Craig Penrice said the F15 aircraft which crashed into Ben Macdui in the Cairngorms in March 2001, would not have been mistaken for RAF Tornado jets also in the area.

Mr Prentice was speaking as an expert defence witness in the 15th day of the court martial involving Flight Lieutenant Malcolm Williams, based at RAF Leuchars in Fife.

Flt Lt Williams has been charged with causing the deaths of Lieutenant Colonel Kenneth Hyvonen, 40, and Captain Kirk Jones, 27, by telling them to descend to 4,000ft when the minimum safety altitude in the area was 6,500ft.

Lt Col Kenneth Hyvonen
Lt Col Hyvonen was the lead pilot

He faces an alternative charge of negligently performing in his duties which involved providing radar information to the pilots.

He has pleaded not guilty to all charges.

When asked if eyewitness accounts were often fallible, Mr Penrice said "elements of them" could be.

"But the fact that witnesses saw something is not really fallible and the general description of their direction can normally be taken as accurate," he said.

Mr Penrice, an ex-RAF pilot with experience of flying different combat aircraft, said the Tornado jets landed at their base more than half an hour after walkers spotted the US aircraft.

Wreckage found

The Tornados' flight path had not been very close to Ben Macdui, he added.

Mr Penrice said the pilots had ultimate responsibility for choosing to descend from 8,000 to 4,000ft during their low-fly exercise.

He said any information offered by RAF air traffic controllers could not be seen as instructions and were offered as assistance.

The two US Air Force F15 fighter jets were on a low flying exercise, from RAF Lakenheath in Suffolk, when they disappeared in the Cairngorms.

Mountain rescue teams battled through white-out conditions to find the wreckage near the summit of Ben Macdhui.


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See also:

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