RAF investigates jet collision at airshow: Organisers defend safety rules after fighters crash in mid-air

A ROYAL Air Force investigation has begun into the cause of a mid-air collision between two Russian fighters at the world's largest airshow at the weekend.

The organisers yesterday defended safety measures at the International Air Tattoo at RAF Fairford, Gloucestershire, saying they worked properly and avoided putting 250,000 spectators at risk.

The Ministry of Defence said airshow safety rules were unlikely to be revised as no one had been injured. Squadron Leader Harry Burgoyne, a tattoo spokesman, said it was the first accident in the show's 20-year history.

'We don't see any reason why we should change our rules. It was an accident. Unfortunately accidents happen, and it's under investigation,' he said.

A team from the Inspectorate of Flight Safety was examining the wreckage of the two MiG-29s while the second day's show programme proceeded without incident yesterday.

The investigators plan to interview the two civilian pilots who ejected in front of a capacity crowd - the largest single spectator event in Britain.

Both pilots, Sergey Tresvyatsky and Alexandr Beschastnov, from the Russian Flight Research Institute, ejected safely. Mr Tresvyatsky, 39, suffered a minor back injury and Mr Beschastnov, 36, a fractured jaw. They were released from Princess Alexandra Military Hospital at RAF Wroughton in Swindon, Wiltshire, after treatment. A hospital spokeswoman said both left in 'reasonable' physical condition.

Twelve spectators were treated for shock and a woman received minor scorch injuries.

More than 200 aircraft from around the world were taking part in flying displays at the show to mark the RAF's 75th anniversary.

The investigators will also interview flight controllers and examine footage of the crash filmed by television cameras. The investigation is expected to last several months.

The collision occurred as the pilots attempted a cross-over. A split-second after the pilots ejected, the jets broke up in mid-air and crashed to the ground.

One fighter came down at the end of the runway, while the second came down more than a mile away in a field.

Peter Sandall, of Devizes, Wiltshire, who saw the crash said: 'The two fighters were painted yellow and blue. They were coming to the end of their aerial display when one jet flew down the length of the runway and the other was performing a loop to join him. As they came together they collided - one on top of the other. One burst into flames, the planes separated and crashed. The pilots were extremely lucky to have ejected safely.'

Stricter safety rules governing airshows held in Britain were introduced in 1989 following a spate of accidents. In the worst incident, two jets collided and killed 69 spectators when they crashed during an airshow at Ramstein in Germany. The MiG-29 has a chequered safety history. One crashed at the Paris Airshow four years ago.

Sir Jock Kennedy, the tattoo chairman, yesterday defended the airshow's safety record. 'We lay down minimum heights and we lay down conditions of flying. They were flying away from the crowd when they entered the manoeuvre, and they were at a reasonable height - probably some 800ft or so.

'That's exactly as planned. No manoeuvre is permitted flying towards the crowd. That's quite deliberate and we have got reams and reams of safety procedures and flying instructions to cover all the flying. And I'm reasonably satisfied that they were met.'

The MOD maintains its rules for airshows have always been 'at least as stringent' as those for civilian shows which are governed by the Civil Aviation Authority. Civilian organisers attracting crowds of more than 500 people must have CAA permission.