Tributes paid to ‘hero’ F-18 fatal Redmere crash pilot US Marine Taj Sareen who would risk life to save others

Photo by Cpl Aubry Buzek in 2009. Then Captain (now Major) Taj Sareen, a Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 323 F/A-18 pilot...

Photo by Cpl Aubry Buzek in 2009. Then Captain (now Major) Taj Sareen, a Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 323 F/A-18 pilot, shows Jared Hyams the model fighter jets they use during briefs. The Make-A-Wish foundation granted Hyams his wish to attend the 2009 Marine Corps Air Station Miramar Air Show Oct. 1, and Sareen escorted them around the squadron and air show. - Credit: Archant

Tributes have been paid to Taj Sareen, the F-18 pilot who crashed on the Suffolk/Cambridgeshire border, describing him as a man who would risk his life to save others.

Emergency services at the scene of a plane crash at Shippea Hill.

Emergency services at the scene of a plane crash at Shippea Hill. - Credit: Archant

Witnesses have suggested the US Marine Corps pilot, who leaves behind a young daughter, appeared to eject later than he had to in a bid to avoid nearby houses in Redmere, Cambridgeshire.

Friends of Major Sareen, a pilot of 11 years in Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 232, of 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, have taken to Twitter to pay tribute to the “hero” pilot, who is from the San Diego area.

Preston Phillips, ABC news anchor, was a friend of the pilot who had taken off from RAF Lakenheath with five other F/A-18C Hornets (F-18s) on Wednesday morning.

After hearing reports that Major Sareen had attempted to avoid houses, he told ABC 7 News: “I knew that was Taj. That’s Taj in a heartbeat. I mean, he would do that to save people.”

Emergency services at the scene of a plane crash at Shippea Hill.

Emergency services at the scene of a plane crash at Shippea Hill. - Credit: Archant


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He added on Twitter that he was “crushed” by the news, saying that he “couldn’t hold back tears” while working on the story of his friend’s death for ABC.

He posted: “A friend. A hero. An all around great guy. You will be greatly missed Taj, but you will never be forgotten.”

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Major Sareen, who went to the University of San Francisco, was flying home to Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, in California, after seeing active combat duty on a six month tour in the Middle East.

ABC 7 News Photographer Chris Jewett went to university with the pilot, telling US media: “He had this confidence and infectious smile.

Emergency services at the scene of a plane crash at Shippea Hill.

Emergency services at the scene of a plane crash at Shippea Hill. - Credit: Archant

“When he came in the room everyone wanted to talk to him whether he was wearing his dress blues (uniform) or not. It just seemed like something he was called to do, something meaningful.”

The F-18 that Major Sareen was flying crashed into fenland five miles from RAF Lakenheath at around 10.30am on October 21, with an ejector seat seen drifting through the fog and cloud and coming to rest nearly a mile from the debris.

The five other F-18 Hornet pilots were safely diverted to RAF Lossiemouth, in Scotland.

Witnesses spoke of a 300 to 400 foot fireball and an “unbelievable” bang that shook the houses around the farmer’s field.

Emergency services at the scene of a plane crash at Shippea Hill. Eye witness Karen Miles-Holdaway.

Emergency services at the scene of a plane crash at Shippea Hill. Eye witness Karen Miles-Holdaway. - Credit: Archant

Karen Miles-Holdaway, 48, of Redmere, was in her garden, which backs onto the field where the jet came down.

“I have to say the whole community is feeling for the pilot’s family, and we send our condolences and prayers. I think that he could have ejected earlier, but was trying to avoid the houses and for that we are incredibly grateful. I wish I could shake his hand as a lot of us were home in our houses today, it could have been far worse.”

The USAF’s 48th Fighter Wing, at RAF Lakenheath, is now dealing with securing the crash sites, confirming yesterday that an investigation is now underway.

The 48th Fighter Wing commander, Colonel Robert Novotny, visited the scene. He said: “We’re deeply saddened by the loss of the Marine aviator’s life yesterday, and here at RAF Lakenheath we stand ready to assist.

“The squadron had a successful combat deployment in the Middle East, and then to have an accident like this on their way home was tragic.

“We only get one chance to make this right. It’s times like this that highlight the great alliance we have with the UK, working side-by-side during the response efforts.

“Right now, we’re focused on supporting our Marine friends and brothers here...as they grieve the loss of their teammate.

“Our thoughts are with the family and friends of this Marine, as well as with the Red Devils and everyone at Miramar as they endure this tragedy.”

Cambridgeshire Police are now in a support role only, working to man the cordon and keep the scenes secure.

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