The crash happened a few hundred yards from junction 36 of the M6 at Farleton near Kirkby Londsdale. The helicopter is thought to have had its rear rotary blade ripped off before bursting into flames on farmland.
The crew of the Tornado were apparently unaware they had hit the helicopter. They lost all power in one engine and reported they had been hit by a flock of birds. They were unhurt and had to make an emergency landing at British Aerospace's airfield at Warton, Preston. The two dead men were named last night as Robert Reid, the pilot, a married man employed by Lakeside Helicopters, from Lothian; and Alan Tucker, of Old Hutton, Kendal. Mr Tucker, an employee of Shell, was on an inspection flight over a gas pipeline.
The Tornado was flying from RAF Bruggen in Germany to Cumbria on a routine training flight and would have been at an altitude of 250ft to 500ft.
Mavis Bainbridge, of West View Farm, Crooklands, near to the crash scene, said: 'We do have RAF Tornados swooping low over our house and farm almost every day and sometimes they do look as though they will hit the farm.'
Tornados regularly fly at low level over Cumbria and there is controversy about how safe the exercises are. At 500mph the crew would have one or two seconds to take evasive action if they closed on an aircraft on their flight path.
A passenger jet from Leeds-Bradford airport was involved in an air miss with an RAF Tornado 12 miles north of Skipton, Yorkshire, on Tuesday evening, the Ministry of Defence has confirmed.