Tornado lost in ninth forces air crash this year

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An RAF Tornado crashed in Germany yesterday, the ninth jet Britain's armed services have lost this year.

The pilot and navigator sustained minor injuries after ejecting from the aircraft, a Ministry of Defence spokesman said.

The Tornado GR-1, based at RAF Bruggen, near the Dutch border, was on a routine flight when it came down in open ground about 22 miles away near the village of Issum. A spokesman said that a board of inquiry would be convened immediately.

The RAF has lost seven jets this year: four Tornadoes, a Jaguar, a Harrier and a Hawk trainer aircraft. Two servicemen died on Friday when a Royal Navy Sea Harrier crashed near Taunton, and a second Sea Harrier was lost when it ditched in the Adriatic after a mission over Bosnia earlier this month. The MoD has said it is not aware of any links between the crashes.

Labour's defence spokesman, Dr David Clark, said he was writing to the Secretary of State for Defence, Michael Portillo, to demand a full-scale inquiry into the spate of crashes. "What they have at the moment," he said, "is an investigation of each accident one by one, but we need to be looking deeper to see if the RAF and Royal Navy are suffering from overstretch; if this is the result of pushing men and machines too far."

Dr Clark had said before the latest crash that he would table Commons questions about "a matter of mounting concern and alarm". He said yesterday: "I believe a strain may have been put on the system, and I therefore renew my call for an inquiry into the totality of these accidents. There must be a full, penetrating, open and independent investigation into their causes."

He said the combined cost of the planes was pounds 190m, including about pounds 20m for the Tornado. "So far this year nine planes have been lost compared with 10 in the whole of 1995, nine in 1994 and seven in 1993.

"The Government has cut defence spending by about 30 per cent and yet they are increasing the commitment of the military," he said.

"The Royal Air Force is working at huge over-stretch now, operating over the former Yugoslavia, on the air exclusion zones in the north and south of Iraq, flying transporters to the Falklands, and with involvement in humanitarian missions in Bosnia.

"The Royal Navy's commitments include helicopter flying in Bosnia as well as involvement in the Adriatic patrol. The Army's massive commitments world-wide are well-known. What we are seeing is that because of lack of spares and lack of training these operations are taking their inevitable toll."

A defence ministry spokesman described the latest accident as: "very distressing ... we've lost more planes in the first eight weeks of this year than we did in all of last year.

"Over the last few years the trend has been going down. This year will be a statistical nightmare," he said. "This is something we don't want to happen. We spend a lot of money on training and accident prevention to ensure that it doesn't."

n This year's crashes:

10 January: Two Tornado F-3s lost in mid-air collision;

11 January: Tornado GR1 lost after simulated "bounce" with two other Tornadoes;

23 January: Jaguar lost when inexperienced pilot hit barrier on take- off;

13 February: Hawk trainer lost when the pilot ejected following take- off problems;

13 February: RN Sea Harrier crashed on take-off in Adriatic

18 February: Harrier crashed at RAF Wittering with suspected engine failure;

23 February: RN Harrier crashed in Somerset;

26 February: Tornado GR-1 crashed in Germany.