Pilot's lucky escape after sea plunge

A PILOT had a lucky escape when his light aircraft plunged into the North Sea just off the Suffolk coast at speeds thought to be approaching 100mph.The man, who has not been named but is believed to be from Germany, was winched to safety by a RAF Sea King helicopter from Wattisham Airfield.

A PILOT had a lucky escape when his light aircraft plunged into the North Sea just off the Suffolk coast at speeds thought to be approaching 100mph.

The man, who has not been named but is believed to be from Germany, was winched to safety by a RAF Sea King helicopter from Wattisham Airfield.

His Cessna aircraft came down around 1.30pm yesterday 15 miles from Orford Ness after it ran out of fuel on its way to Clacton-on-Sea.

Officers from Wattisham were scrambled into action after receiving a mayday call from the Aeronautical Rescue Co-operation Centre at RAF Kinloss in north-east Scotland.

When the crew arrived on scene at 1.43pm there was no sign of the plane wreckage but the pilot was clearly visible in the water and was swimming towards a rescue boat from a nearby Russian tanker.

Two commercial aircraft, one from British Midland and another from British Airways, were also circling overhead to help rescuers pinpoint the stricken man.

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Within three minutes the pilot was winched to safety and flown to Ipswich Hospital complaining of back pain.

Lifeboats from Aldeburgh and Harwich were also dispatched but they were stood down once the crew from Wattisham had picked the man up.

Flight lieutenant Steve Murkin, who captained the operation, said: “We had a mayday saying the pilot was running low on fuel and he had come down.

“When we arrived there was no sign of the wreckage so we believe it must have sunk. We saw a man floating and swimming in the sea so could tell he was still breathing and conscious.

“We think he was in the water for 10 or 15 minutes. He said he hit the water at 90 knots, which is the equivalent of 100mph. He was extremely lucky there were people in the area that could help locate him.”

Flight lieutenant Dave Kay, co-pilot, said it was a relatively straight forward exercise but it was fortunate the pilot had crashed so close to other people.

“It was just a case of flying around and winching him up so it was quite a compact operation,” he said. “He was very lucky to come down near people and to have been found so quickly because if he had been by himself we would have had to have a full search operation and that's when hypothermia could become an issue.”

Flt Lt Kay also praised the work of the BA aircraft saying: “It is always nice to see them and it was very good of them to take time out to help because it would have been a commercial flight.”

Lifeboat crew members in Aldeburgh believe it was the first time since the Second World War that the station had been alerted to a plane going down in the North Sea.

The station's all-weather offshore lifeboat, the Freddie Cooper, was called to the crashed plane at 1.35pm. But at first it was not clear where the plane had gone down.

Mick Testoni, spokesman for Aldeburgh lifeboat, said: “Initially it was supposed to be at Outer Gabbard, 20 miles south east of us.

“But it turned out to be nine miles east south east and because it was a bit of an indeterminate position, the Harwich offshore and inshore lifeboats were also alerted.”

The Aldeburgh lifeboat arrived after the pilot had been rescued and the lifeboat's crew of six was asked to look for any debris or pollution, but there was none.

The Harwich lifeboats were stood down after the pilot was rescued.

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