Two teenage air cadets and their RAF instructors were killed yesterday as two training aircraft collided in mid-air.
The girls, who were cousins, and their adult tutors died after the light aircraft touched and plunged to the ground at a coastal nature reserve in South Wales at about 11am. It is believed they clipped each other's wings.
Officials said the cadets, who have not yet been named but were of school age, were taking part in a training exercise designed to give them first-hand flight experience. The accident took place shortly after they took off separately from RAF St Athan in the Vale of Glamorgan.
The two Grob 115E aircraft came down at Kenfig Nature Reserve near Porthcawl, less than 800m from a main railway line and the M4 . At least one of the aeroplanes was still on fire when emergency services arrived.
An RAF spokesman, Group Captain Andy Naismith, said: "Four members of the RAF family have tragically lost their lives following an accident which took place near Porthcawl just before lunchtime today.
"Those who died were two members of the RAF and two Air Training Corps cadets. The next of kin have all been informed. The families have requested 24 hours' grace before naming takes place to let them absorb and come to terms with this devastating news."
People who witnessed the accident told of their shock. Cliff Allen, 76, who lives in the nearby village of Ton Kenfig, was setting out for his morning walk when he saw the collision. "I was looking up at two small planes in the sky and suddenly heard an enormous bang," he said.
"One of the planes went into a nosedive and spiralled down out of sight. I went over to the scene with a neighbour straight away, and at that point only park rangers had arrived. There was a big hole where one of the planes had hit the ground."
Reena Callingham, who was hanging out her washing when she saw the crash, said: "I watched them for a few minutes and then the second one just hit him. I couldn't believe it. At first there wasn't an explosion straight away, but then there was. They just went down. I couldn't speak and I rang the police. My heart is still beating so hard, it was a big shock."
The two-seater Grob aircraft, powered by propellers, are regularly used by the RAF to train air cadets. The pilot and student each have a joystick and a set of controls, and it is usual for cadets to be briefly given control of the aircraft as part of the experience.
Last night, both the Ministry of Defence and the RAF refused to say whether the girls might have taken control during the flight.
A spokesman for the MoD said: "Whether the cadets would have the opportunity to take the controls I simply don't know."
An investigation into the collision has been launched by the Air Accidents Investigation Board, South Wales Police and the defence ministry.Reuse content