The RAF confirmed last night that one of its instructors and a student pilot from the Italian air force had been in the Tornado. It did not say who had control of the aircraft when the accident happened. It is thought that the Tornado's mission involved low level flying and that the planes crashed at between 1,000 and 2,000ft.
The civilian aircraft came down 300 yards from a primary school, killing both men on board. One of the two RAF personnel in the Tornado managed to eject from their blazing aircraft after the collision, but both he and the other crew member died.
Douglas Scrivener, who witnessed the crash, said: "I was just out talking to my neighbour in the back garden when I saw this little plane coming around in a sort of big circle.
"It came around again and then suddenly there was a jet. They hit each other. The jet just went right through the middle of it."
The pilots of both planes had only eyesight to rely on to avoid a collision; they were not being instructed by air traffic control. With a closing speed of about 200 metres per second they either failed to see each other or had no time to take evasive action.
The Tornado, much larger and heavier than the two-seater Cessna 152, crashed in a ball of flame in fields near the village of Everton, 11 miles from Doncaster. It had been on a training mission from the Tornado training base at RAF Cottesmore in Rutland.
As the jet fell it spilt fuel over several fields from its ruptured wing tanks and hit power lines, cutting off electricity to the village.
The single-engined light aircraft came down almost three miles away, near the village of Mattersey. It had taken off from a small airfield at Gamston, 14 miles to the south.
As darkness fell over Mattersey and Everton the bodies of the four dead men were still lying among the shattered pieces of metal and glass which were once the two aircraft.
Teams of investigators moved in the fields lit in patches by floodlights. The roads leading up to the two crash sites were sealed by police, who said there were pools of flammable fuel yet to be cleared.
Another witness, William Allen, who rushed to the site, said: "It was absolutely terrible, there was wreckage everywhere and there were some bodies."
Despite the proximity of the crash, lessons carried on at Mattersey primary school, which has 69 pupils.
Teresa Mapplebeck, who has a four-year-old daughter at the school, said: "I'd left the window open and literally saw the plane falling from the sky.
"I couldn't see where it was going to end up. I rang 999 straight away."
Gathering her two-year-old son, Liam, in her arms, she said she rushed to the school.I immediately thought of the school and it was such a great relief to find it hadn't been hit. There were parents and children hugging each other, obviously everyone was very relieved."
Both the RAF and the government's Air Accident Investigation Branch will hold inquiries. All four victims were certified dead at the scene by a police surgeon.
Last night Nottinghamshire Police refused to name any of the victims, saying that not all of their next of kin had been contacted.
David Learmount, safety and operations editor of Flight International and a former RAF pilot, said the two aircraft were almost certainly in "uncontrolled airspace" with the pilots having to rely on visual contact to avoid a collision.
The accident was the fourth mid-air collision between civilian and military aircraft over Britain during the past 15 years, and it claimed the largest number of victims.
Collisions involving only military aircraft and only civilian aircraft have both been more frequent.
Last October, RAF pilots at a Scottish air base were given a stern warning after a near miss when a fighter came within 300ft of an airliner approaching Aberdeen airport. A Civil Aviation Authority report described the incident, which happened the previous year, as "very serious".Reuse content