Report: Two American F-15’s and British Skydivers Involved in Near Miss

  • The United Kingdom Air Accident Investigation Branch has explained that the rules and procedures were not met.
  • "The frequency became busy just as they transferred and so, by the time the F-15 pilots checked in with the controller, they were already about to fly over Chatteris."
  • It has not been established how closely the aircraft of the two skydivers passed.

Two American F-15 fighters nearly caused an accident on April 17 when they entered airspace reserved for skydiving in Cambridgeshire, a county in eastern England. They did it inadvertently and were close to colliding with two paratroopers who had launched from a plane shortly before the fighters went under them, a report has revealed. The moment was recorded with a GoPro camera that was attached to one of the skydivers’ helmets when traveling with a partner at about 200 kilometers per hour.

The 48th Fighter Wing (48 FW) is part of the United States Air Force’s Third Air Force, assigned to Headquarters Air Command Europe and United States Air Forces in Europe (USAFE). It is based at RAF Lakenheath, England. It is nicknamed the Statue of Liberty Wing.

The United Kingdom Air Accident Investigation Branch has explained that the rules and procedures were not met and said although the pilots should have been informed of where the airspace reserved for skydiving was, they should have avoided that area, as The Guardian reported. “The board was shown Go-Pro footage filmed from the helmet of one of the parachutists and could clearly see the F-15s passing beneath,” said the report.

The jets were handed off from air traffic controllers at RAF Coningsby in Lincolnshire to those at Lakenheath in Suffolk. “However, the frequency became busy just as they transferred and so, by the time the F-15 pilots checked in with the controller, they were already about to fly over Chatteris,” said the report. You can read in the report, according to the BBC.  The air incident center has classified this altercation in the second level of danger, although it has not been able to establish how closely the aircraft of the two skydivers passed. Also, the report notes that the pilots did not see them.

UK airspace was “incredibly complex and often congested,” said Col. Will Marshall, 48th Fighter Wing Commander. “The safety of our aircrew, as well as those we share the skies with, is our number one priority.” He added, “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.”

American fighters had changed their trajectory shortly before the incident to avoid going through a fuel supply tank. When the air traffic controller wanted to change its course again, the planes were about to fly over the air zone reserved for skydiving, the report said.

The British Parachute Association (BPA) is the national governing body for sport parachuting in the United Kingdom. In 2015 there were 29 affiliated drop zones in the British Parachute Association. North London Skydiving Centre’s drop zone is located in Chatteris, Cambridgeshire.

Those responsible for the Chatteris airfield, where several parachute clubs are located, communicate every morning with air traffic controllers to inform them about their activity. According to the UK Air Accidents Investigation Branch, the “Chatteris airfield could not do much more from an operational point of view” to avoid the incident. This body has lamented that the Lakenheath air traffic controller had not warned American pilots about the practice of this activity in Chatteris. The skydivers “had no control over speed and direction while they were in free fall,” but they could have opened their parachutes to stop their descent, the report adds.

The US Air Force in Lakenheath (East of England), also, has again reminded its crews about the need to avoid flying over this area reserved for skydiving.

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Benedict Kasigara

I have been working as a freelance editor/writer since 2006. My specialist subject is film and television having worked for over 10 years from 2005 during which time I was the editor of the BFI Film and Television.


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