An RAF Red Arrows pilot was killed yesterday when his jet crashed in a field following an air show in Bournemouth. The pilot of "Red 4" was named last night as 33-year-old Flight Lieutenant Jon Egging.
The display team were flying back to Bournemouth airport at lunchtime after a successful display at the town's air festival when the crash happened. Eight of the display team's nine planes landed at the airport, but Flt Lt Egging's jet crashed a mile away, near the village of Throop.
The aircraft came in low along a field before hitting the ground and "exploding into pieces". A plume of smoke was seen coming from the site, and witnesses said they saw rescue teams pulling the pilot from the river.
It is thought that the Red Arrows had been undertaking a final manoeuvre as a thank-you for the co-operation of local air traffic control when Flt Lt Egging's Hawk performed an arc and failed to recover.
A spokesman for the Ministry of Defence said it was still unsure how the accident happened, but did not believe there had been a collision. There will be a full inquiry.
Shaun Spencer-Perkins witnessed the crash while on a walk with his family at Throop Mill. He told the BBC: "I heard a rushing sound and I saw a plane about 15ft above the ground racing across the fields. It impacted, bounced across the field, and made it across the river.
"Members of the public jumped into the water to search for the cockpit. We waved down the helicopter. I took off my son's orange jacket and my wife's red jumper to get the attention of the helicopter."
In another BBC interview, Mr Spencer-Perkins said: "The plane impacted, hit the ground and exploded into pieces, bits of the fuselage flying into the air. I didn't see any flames, just debris flying into the air. At which point I looked into the sky to see if I could see an ejector seat or some sort of parachute, and there was nothing."
Radio enthusiast Malcolm MacIntyre, 37, told the Bournemouth Echo that he had listened in on radio communications between the team and the control tower just before the crash.
He said that just after the Red Arrows were called to land by the tower, one of the pilots said: "Are you aware of the Mayday?"
The reply was: "Yes, we are, somebody is dealing with that."
Flt Lt Egging lived in Rutland and leaves a wife, Emma. A profile on the Red Arrows website says the pair enjoyed "road and fell running as well as travelling the world together".
He had been interested in flying at an early age, inspired by his airline-pilot father, who let him into the cockpit for take-off and landing. At 13 he joined the air training corps in Southam, Warwickshire, where he grew up.
Flt Lt Egging had been doing displays with the elite team for only three months. His 11 years in the RAF included serving on the front line as a Harrier pilot flying operational missions in Afghanistan.
This is not the first time the Red Arrows have faced serious questions over safety. In March last year, two Hawks were involved in a mid-air collision during a training exercise. One pilot was forced to eject and was taken to hospital with a dislocated shoulder. The last fatal crash was in 1988, when one of the planes failed to pull out of a roll and crashed, killing the pilot. The team were banned from any future displays, but the ban was lifted five months later.
Flt Lt Egging is the eighth Red Arrow to die in an accident since the team's official formation in 1965.
The Defence Secretary, Dr Liam Fox said: "It was with great sadness that I heard of the death of Flt Lt Jon Egging while performing with the Red Arrows today.
"He was a gifted aviator, who was selected for one of the most demanding flying jobs in the RAF.
"Joining the Red Arrows was his lifetime ambition and he performed with great skill while on the team. My thoughts and prayers are with his wife Emma and his family and friends at this terrible time."