Wing panel falls from USAF plane

A METAL panel that fell off an American aircraft during a flight could have seriously hurt someone on the ground, aviation experts warned last night.

Dave Gooderham

A METAL panel that fell off an American aircraft during a flight could have seriously hurt someone on the ground, aviation experts warned last night.

Military chiefs at RAF Mildenhall have pledged an investigation into the disappearance of a small part of the wing of a KC-135 Stratotanker during a routine refuelling mission.

It is the third time in less than a year that a plane from the USAF base has had parts fall from the sky as officials once again called on the public's help in finding the missing section after the latest incident.

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The EADT's aviation expert, Ken Blowers, said it was only pure fortune that no one was hurt by the wing part measuring 3ft by 1ft.

He said: “Although the part was probably only made of aluminium, it still could have hurt someone on the ground. If that had been a child, it could have seriously hurt them and I think it is fortunate that no one was injured.

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“This sort of thing happens from time to time, you usually hear about it around Heathrow Airport. The planes at Mildenhall are quite old now and they probably have parts which loosen.”

The small part of the KC-135 aircraft's left wing was found missing after it landed at RAF Mildenhall on Wednesday night.

A spokesman for the base said the plane - which had safely completed a routine refuelling mission - had “no specific hazards associated with it” but confirmed that a section, measuring 1ft by 3ft, had gone missing.

Base officials have revealed they are looking into the incident which would also mean a thorough investigation of the plane to determine how the accident took place.

But they played down any fears or danger to the public below due to the size of the metal panel.

The spokesman said: “The aircraft was travelling in the RAF Mildenhall circuit pattern and the missing panel is most likely to be found within an area to the south of the base or aligned with the runway. There would not have been any risk to the public on the ground as it was such a small piece that it could not have hurt anyone.”

It is not the first time that the American airbase has had problems with bits falling off planes and called on the public's help in retrieving them.

In November, a door went missing from the underside of a massive KC-135 Stratotanker with the large flap thought to have come loose somewhere between Suffolk, the Wash and Conningsby in Yorkshire.

It was the second piece of Mildenhall's hi-tech arsenal to go missing in eight months after a box packed with metal fragments and explosive charges fell off an MC 130Hs in March.

At the time, the public was warned not to move within ten metres of the chaff canister which is designed to explode and confuse missiles.

Speaking about the latest disappearance, a base spokesman said: “The 100th Air Refuelling Wing (ARW) would be grateful if any member of the public who finds the panel could contact the 100th ARW public affairs office on 01638 542654 or the local authorities.”

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