Cambridgeshire

'Hero' US jet pilot saved farmer's life during crash

Major Taj Sareen and his daughter Jade Image copyright Annie Driscoll
Image caption Maj Taj Sareen leaves behind 14-month-old daughter Jade

The US pilot who died when his jet crashed in a field has been called a "hero" by the farmer who owns the land, after he avoided hitting him and his son.

Maj Taj Sareen was killed when his jet came down at Temple farm in Redmere, Cambridgeshire, last week.

Peter Sizer said he was working in his shed with his son when the pilot crashed, just missing the building.

He phoned the emergency services when he heard the explosion.

"I heard a bang and saw this fireball, it was a huge shock. It was only 200m from our shed.

"I would say that he is a hero. He saved our lives by swerving around the shed to miss us. It makes us both feel lucky to be alive.

"The impact was so big that we only found a hole in the ground and just wreckage, the plane was buried into the soil, there was no fire," Mr Sizer said.

The farmer said that the doors were completely blown off his shed by the explosion.

"If he landed the other side, the shockwaves alone would probably have killed us," he added.

Image copyright Annie Driscoll
Image caption Annie Driscoll said Taj Sareen was "an amazing man"

Maj Sareen, from Hillsborough, California, was returning home from a six-month tour against Islamic State (IS) in Iraq and Syria when the accident happened.

His plane is reported to have encountered issues with refuelling before he took off from RAF Lakenheath in Suffolk. However, the cause of the crash will not be known until an investigation by the Marine Corps finishes in around two to three months. Mr Sizer said there has been a lot of activity on his farm, with US officials joining UK police to search the area for clues.

Eyewitnesses had already suggested the 34-year-old, who won two achievement awards and an Air Medal during his career, might have steered his plane away from houses as he descended. Mr Sizer confirmed that a neighbour saw him he "fly between two sets of houses to avoid them".

It has also been suggested that the Marine Corps pilot, who served a tour of duty in Afghanistan in 2010, did not eject until the last minute so that he could steer his plane towards the empty field.

His friend Capt Annie Driscoll said this would be typical of Maj Sareen, who she met more than 10 years ago at pilot school.

She has created an online fund for his 14-month-old daughter Jade, which has already raised more than $47,000 (£30,600).

Image copyright Annie Driscoll
Image caption A memorial fund has been set up to raise money for the pilot's daughter

"He was a selfless individual," the US Air Force helicopter pilot said. "This is who he was.

"He was gracious and positive. He loved what he did and he was a strong believer in serving in the military and fighting for his country."

One of the donations is from Mr Sizer's brother-in-law, Dennis Day, who said the the pilot saved "at least two lives, maybe more" with his "selfless actions."

Lindsey Collins, the mother of the pilot's daughter, has commented on the page to thank everyone who has donated money for her "beautifully blessed little girl".

"I am utterly overwhelmed," she said. "Nothing will bring back my daughter's daddy, but we can help her know the incredible man he was."

Image copyright Twitter/@Eagle_chaser
Image caption One of the F-18 jets was photographed at RAF Lakenheath on the day of the crash

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