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Fighter jets in 350mph near miss with skydivers

PUBLISHED: 13:40 12 September 2019 | UPDATED: 13:40 12 September 2019

The F15 jets were involved in a near miss with skydivers in April Pictures: PHIL MORLEY

The F15 jets were involved in a near miss with skydivers in April Pictures: PHIL MORLEY

Two US fighter jets based in Suffolk have been involved in a high-speed near miss with two free falling skydivers.

The pair of F15 jets from RAF Lakenheath could reportedly be seen flying below the parachutists on their helmet cameras as they plunged at 120mph towards Chatteris airfield in Cambridgeshire on April 17.

Members of the UK Airprox Board, an organisation which tries to improve air safety in the UK, were shown the dramatic GoPro footage while investigating the incident.

The board said the pilots from RAF Lakenheath should have been told by air traffic control the Cambridgeshire parachute site was active.

However, they were unable to assess how close the jets came to the skydivers, who described the risk of collision as 'medium'.

The report said the pilots "should have known about its position and activities as part of their normal briefing routine", and either questioned air traffic control or avoided it.

However, the pilot of the F15 reported that he was "not aware that Chatteris were active and it was not mentioned by air traffic control".

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The report also said the skydivers had "no control over their speed or direction while in freefall" but could have "opened their parachutes to slow their descent".

It added that seeing free falling sky divers, or the presence of an aircraft travelling at 350mph, is "virtually impossible".

According to radar data, the two F15s had made a turn shortly before the incident to avoid a refuelling tanker and were then handed over from air traffic controllers at RAF Coningsby in Lincolnshire to those at Lakenheath.

"However, the frequency became busy just as they transferred and so, by the time the F15 pilots checked in with the controller, they were already about to fly over Chatteris," said the report.

Concluding the report, the board classified the incident in the second-highest danger category.

Operators from Chatteris airfield, where several parachute clubs are based, call nearby air traffic controllers each morning to tell them if they are active, and the dropping aircraft also alerts them.

The Airprox board said there was "very little more that Chatteris could have done".

Col. Will Marshall, 48th Fighter Wing commander, said: "UK airspace is incredibly complex and often congested, and the safety of our aircrew as well as those we share the skies with is our number one priority.

"We are using this incident to reinforce the vital importance of situational awareness and attention to detail for our all of our air traffic controllers and aircrew."

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