MoD rejects cuts safety fears after crash

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The Independent Online

The Ministry of Defence today dismissed suggestions that proposed cuts would endanger the public after two RAF pilots were plucked from the sea by a closure-threatened rescue operation.

The Tornado crew, from RAF Lossiemouth, ejected from the GR4 jet into the sea off the west coast of Scotland yesterday.

The plane went down into the water at Loch Ewe, near Gairloch, Wester Ross.

The two pilots were airlifted to Raigmore Hospital in Inverness by a Coastguard helicopter, whose station at Stornoway is under threat of closure.

The rescue was co-ordinated from RAF Kinloss, which is to close under the Government spending cuts programme.

The decision was made to close the Moray air base after a new fleet of Nimrod reconnaissance aircraft that would have been based there was also axed.

The SNP defence spokesman at Westminster, Angus Robertson, who is also MP for Moray, said cutting and closing Scotland's military and coastguard facilities was "madness" and called on Westminster to "think again".

He said: "These Tory cuts are putting lives at risk on land and sea.

"This rescue was co-ordinated from a centre at Kinloss which faces closure, involved a rescue helicopter from Stornoway whose station is threatened with closure, and involved a tug boat service which is also being axed.

"It is not difficult to see what is at stake, and how serious these cuts could be in terms of emergency responses."

But a Ministry of Defence (MoD) spokeswoman said: "The safety of the public is of paramount importance and we praise the efforts of all those involved in this incident.

"It is wrong to suggest that the public will be at risk under future arrangements of search and rescue.

"No decision has yet been made."

The crash happened during a visit to RAF Kinloss by Armed Forces Minister Nick Harvey.

He also visited RAF Lossiemouth, which is also under threat of closure.

A Mayday request was sent to the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) from Kinloss at 2.43pm.

The MCA said two people and two life rafts were found in the water.

The pilots were winched from the water to the helicopter and taken to hospital.

It is not known what caused the plane to crash.

Stornoway Coastguard said lifeboats picked up hand-size parts of the plane which were "flotsam" in the area after the crash.

The parts, which were taken back to Stornoway, will be collected by MoD personnel later.

The Air Accidents Investigation Branch said last night they had not been asked to help with the investigation and the MoD would be leading the probe into the crash as it was a military aircraft.

The MoD said the two airmen were still in hospital with minor injuries, and it is hoped they will be released later today.

A spokeswoman said a full investigation into what caused the crash would be undertaken, but was unable to comment further.