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Near-misses in skies above Suffolk are revealed

PUBLISHED: 18:44 15 November 2020 | UPDATED: 12:53 16 November 2020

F-15 fighter jets have been involved in near-misses over Suffolk. Picture: GREGG BROWN

F-15 fighter jets have been involved in near-misses over Suffolk. Picture: GREGG BROWN

Official reports reveal near-misses that have taken place in the skies above Suffolk in the last two years – and they include incidents involving F15 fighters jets and an Apache attack helicopter.

An Apache helicopter at Wattisham Airbase in Suffolk.  Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWNAn Apache helicopter at Wattisham Airbase in Suffolk. Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

The US Air Force jets based at RAF Lakenheath and Army attack helicopters at Wattisham Airfield have both been reported to the UK Airprox board, an organisation which reviews all near-misses over Britain’s skies.

The board report on any lessons which could be learned from the incidents before ranking the risk of collision.

They release monthly reports which have featured a number of incidents in Suffolk over the past two years.

The most high profile took place in April 2019 when two US fighter jets were involved in a high-speed near-miss with two free falling skydivers.

The 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.

At the time of the incident, 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 all of our air traffic controllers and aircrew.”

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

F15 jets were also in a near-miss with a glider in August 2018. The jets were flying in formation on a visual recovery mission to RAF Lakenheath, when one pilot saw a glider below.

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Risks of collision were deemed high by the pilots, who at one point flew only 100ft above the glider, which had made a sharp right turn.

Another near-miss, which this time happened over the skies of Norwich, took place during a training exercise on October 3, last year.

A UK Airprox Board report found that the incident was category B - the second highest rating - after hearing that the jets reportedly came within 800ft of each other.

The first F-15 was in formation with three other planes travelling south-west, heading from the coast over the north-west of Norwich.

At the same time, another F-15 was flying west in a pair to the north of Norwich, but at a lower altitude.

The pilot of the first fighter jet said the pair were flying “predictably” in their formation but as they approached, a jet begin to climb.

It then made an “aggressive manoeuvre” to avoid a collision.

The report said that due to both pilots having to “take action” and that the manoeuvres were “some what last minute”, safety had not been assured.

Army helicopters bases in Suffolk have also been involved in a near-miss.

An Apache helicopter came within 150ft of colliding with an air ambulance while taking off from Wattisham Airfield in May 2020.

The degree of risk of a collision was given as C by the UK Airprox board, the third highest grade, and no further recommendations were made.


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