The iconic Red Arrows were grounded yesterday as investigators tried to unravel the cause of the greatest tragedy to hit the team for almost a quarter of a century.
Tributes poured in for Flight Lieutenant Jon Egging, whose jet crashed just minutes after completing a display at Bournemouth Air Festival on Saturday afternoon.
The 33-year-old, Red 4 in the Diamond Nine display, was praised for his selfless bravery in steering the Hawk T1 away from houses and a family park as it plummeted to the ground. Witnesses described how the jet appeared to suddenly fly lower than the rest of the team before a crack like a car backfiring and a rushing sound were heard.
Dorset police said Flt Lt Egging, "Eggman" to his friends, had been thrown from the plane. Locals who rushed to the rescue found him in the River Stour, near the village of Throop, without his ejection seat but with an open parachute. The pilot, who had been with the team less than a year, was pronounced dead at the scene.
Yesterday hundreds wore red as a tribute was aired at Bournemouth Air Festival, while others queued to sign books of condolence or leave flowers.
His wife, Dr Emma Egging, a 32-year-old academic who had just seen him perform, said: "Jon was everything to those that knew him, and he was the best friend and husband I could ever have wished for. There was nothing bad about Jon. He loved his job and was an exemplary pilot.
"Watching him today, I was the proudest I've ever been. I loved everything about him."
Last night, the Ministry of Defence said that a "full service inquiry" was underway. Group Captain Simon Blake, who praised Flt Lt Egging, as a "true team player", known for his professionalism, skill, humility and constant smile, said the Hawk team Mk 1 had been grounded "temporarily until its safety can be assured".
He added: "As for the rest of the season, it is too early to speculate as to when the Red Arrows will be back on the public circuit." Joining the RAF in 2000, Flt Lt Egging, the son of an airline pilot who signed up for the air training corps at the age of 13, flew the Harrier GR9 fighter jet. On gaining a place in the Red Arrows he said he was "flabbergasted", calling it a "privilege".
While the team suffered a collision last year – one pilot ejected, the other landed safely – this is its first fatality since 1988 when Flt Lt Neil MacLachlan was killed during practice.