US Marine Corps pilot killed in F-18 jet crash in Cambridgeshire Fens

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Media captionThe US Marine Corps pilot died after his plane came down in fields at Redmere

A US Marine Corps pilot has died in an F-18 jet crash, close to an RAF base.

The jet came down on farmland in Cambridgeshire, with the alarm raised at 10:30 BST.

The Hornet aircraft, which had taken off from RAF Lakenheath but was not connected to the base, crashed four miles from RAF Mildenhall in Suffolk.

The pilot was the only crew member, police said. The aircraft was part of a fleet of six fighter jets due to fly to California, the US air force said.

The remaining five FA-18 Hornets safely diverted to RAF Lossiemouth airfield in Moray. The aircraft had been en-route from Bahrain and were scheduled to fly to their base in Miramar.

Image caption What appears to be crash debris is scattered across a field

Miramar, base of the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, said in a statement: "A third Marine aircraft wing FA-18/C Hornet belonging to Marine Attack Fighter Squadron 232 stationed at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar crashed in the vicinity of RAF Lakenheath at approximately 05:30am.

"The incident is currently under investigation."

The US Marine Corps added: "I can confirm that the pilot ejected, but I do not have additional information at this time. Our deepest condolences go out to the family and friends of the pilot.

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Media captionThe five remaining FA-18 Hornets landed at RAF Lossiemouth

"The cause of the crash is still unknown."

A witness to the crash, Karen Miles-Holdaway, from Redmere, said she thought the pilot did very well to avoid any houses.

"You could feel the ground move so what I think I heard was probably the impact," she said.

Image copyright Twitter/@Eagle_chaser
Image caption One of the F-18 jets which had been at the base had been photographed earlier in the day

F-18 Hornet facts

  • The McDonnell Douglas F-18 Hornet is an all-weather fighter and attack aircraft which was introduced in the 1980s
  • The US Navy said it proved itself in the 1991 Gulf War in air-to-air combat and its record-breaking reliability
  • Its two jet engines can push it to 1.8 times the speed of sound
  • The jets can cost anything between about $30m (£20m) to $60m (£40m).

"My daughter was driving from Littleport and she saw this flash of light and plume of smoke."

The US ambassador to the UK, Matthew Barzun, said he was tracking the situation closely.

"We're grateful for everyone's concern," he added.

"The loss in Cambridgeshire today is terrible news, my thoughts and prayers are with all involved."

Col Robert G Novotny, commander of the 48th Fighter Wing at RAF Lakenheath posted on Facebook: "Please keep the families, the unit and the USMC [US Marine Corps] in your thoughts and prayers as we navigate this tragedy."

Cambridgeshire Fire and Rescue Service said it sent two crews to the crash site, which were stood down within two hours.

"No firefighting or rescue action was required, but they remained on scene in a support capacity," the spokeswoman said.

The Humber Coastguard said it had also scrambled its helicopter to the scene.

Image copyright Simon Farrow
Image caption Aviation enthusiasts said several F-18s were at RAF Lakenheath at the weekend
Image caption The area is dotted with a few houses, and mostly agricultural land

Ian Barmer, BBC Look East

The skies above the Fens are very busy.

USAF F-15s are based at RAF Lakenheath and there are big refuelling tankers at RAF Mildenhall. There are our own Tornadoes at RAF Marham and RAF Typhoon jets at RAF Coningsby in Lincolnshire.

As well as routine take-offs and landings, jets fly out over the Fens to get to bombing ranges in the Wash.

Jets also visit two USAF bases or use them as staging posts. Recently we had a visit by A10 tank-busters to Lakenheath.

The F-18s are flown by the US navy and the one that crashed, we understand, had recently been on bombing missions over Syria and was flying temporarily from Suffolk before heading back to the US.

Given the amount of activity in the area, accidents are rare.

The last one of note was in October 2014 when an American F-15 came down in farmland near Spalding during a training exercise.

It came down near a school but no-one was hurt and the pilot ejected.

Image caption The fire and rescue service provided support at the scene

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