Wreckage of US Air Force plane located in North Sea

15 June 2020, 11:00

File photo: The US Air Force F-15C Eagle crashed at 9.40am on Monday
File photo: The US Air Force F-15C Eagle crashed at 9.40am on Monday. Picture: PA

By Megan White

A US Air Force plane that crashed into the North Sea has been located, however the pilot is still missing.

The F-15C Eagle, from the 48th Fighter Wing based at RAF Lakenheath in Suffolk, plunged into the sea off the Yorkshire coast at 9.40am on Monday.

The cause of the crash is not known.

RAF Lakenheath said in a statement on Monday afternoon: "Search efforts by Her Majesty's Coastguard have located wreckage from the downed F15C Eagle and recovery efforts are under way.

"The pilot is still missing, and search and rescue efforts continue."

Colonel Will Marshall, commander of the Wing, said he remains "hopeful that our Liberty Wing airman will be located and recovered".

HM Coastguard said it received reports that an aircraft went into the sea 74 miles off the coast of Flamborough Head in Yorkshire.

A search-and-rescue operation is continuing, with a coastguard helicopter and Bridlington and Scarborough RNLI lifeboats sent to the area.

The coastguard also sent a Mayday broadcast, resulting in other vessels nearby heading there.

Col Marshall said: "The cause of the crash is unknown at this time.

"Search and rescue efforts are currently underway but the pilot of the aircraft is still missing.

"We will provide updates as they become available while prioritising respect and consideration for the pilot's family.

"We're extremely grateful for the timely response of our UK counterparts in support of these recovery efforts and remain hopeful that our Liberty Wing airman will be located and recovered."

In a statement, the Royal Air Force said: "At the time of the accident, the aircraft was on a routine training mission with one pilot on board.

"The cause of the crash as well as the status of the pilot are unknown at this time, and UK Search and Rescue have been called to support."

The F15C is a model of jet that has been used by the US Air Force since 1979.

RAF spokesman Martin Tinworth said the aircraft has an "exceptional flight safety record".

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said: “This accident is a terrible tragedy and I desperately hope that the brave pilot will be found. I pay tribute to the search and recover personnel that have been deployed to the scene. 

"Having flown with 48th fighter wing, I know what a community it is, and I know what a blow this will be to the community in Lakenheath, military colleagues, and of course the pilot’s family. 

"On behalf of all residents of West Suffolk, I want to thank every member of USAF based locally for their service and their sacrifice in defence of our freedom, which we value so highly. My thoughts are with you all."

RAF Lakenheath is the "largest US Air Force-operated base in England and the only US air forces in Europe F15 fighter wing", its website said.

The 48th Fighter Wing, which has operated from the base since 1960, has more than 4,500 "active-duty military members".

Its mission statement is to "provide worldwide responsive combat air power and support".

In October 2014, an F15D fighter jet based at RAF Lakenheath crashed in fields near Spalding in Lincolnshire.

The pilot ejected safely, suffering only minor injuries, and no-one on the ground was hurt.

A US Air Force investigation found that the crash was caused by the "angle of attack" of the aircraft and "imperfections" in the assembly of the jet's nose cap.

In October 2015, US pilot Major Taj Sareen died when his F-18 Hornet jet crashed on farmland near RAF Lakenheath.

A subsequent investigation found the 34-year-old did not report problems with his aircraft before take-off.