TWO skydivers plunging to earth had a terrifying near miss when they were almost hit by 1,600mph ‘Top Gun’ American warplanes.
The freefallers filmed the horrific incident on a G-Pro headcam as they tumbled through the sky at 120mph near Chatteris, Cambs.
Though the F15 fighter jets – which found fame in the Tom Cruise ‘Top Gun’ movies – can do almost 1,600mph at full throttle, they were only flying at 350mph but that would have been enough to kill the skydivers instantly.
The ‘Top Gun’ American pilots based at RAF Lakenheath should have been told by air traffic control that the Cambridgeshire parachute site was active, said the UK Airprox Board in a report today.
It has led to the US Air Force base at Lakenheath re-briefing its fighter crews to ‘make them aware’.
Last summer the Duchess of Cornwall was involved in a near miss over the airfield as she flew back home to Gloucestershire in the Royal helicopter from attending a flower show at Sandringham.
The board was unable to establish how close the skydivers and the warplanes came to colliding over Chatteris airfield on 17 April, but still classified it in the second-highest danger category.
“The board was shown Go-Pro footage filmed from the helmet of one of the parachutists and could clearly see the F15s passing beneath” said the report.
The jets had made a turn shortly beforehand to avoid a refuelling tanker.
They were ‘handed over’ from air traffic controllers at RAF Coningsby in Lincolnshire to the team at Lakenheath in Suffolk, home of the US Air Force’s 48th Fighter Wing.
“However, the frequency became busy just as they transferred and so, by the time the F15 pilots checked in with the controller, they were already about to fly over Chatteris” said the report.
The pilots ‘should have known about the position and activities at Chatteris as part of their normal briefing routine’ and either questioned air traffic control or avoided the airfield.
Chatteris, where several parachute clubs are based, call nearby air traffic controllers every morning to tell them if they are active.
The Airprox board said there was ‘very little more that Chatteris could have done’.
The skydivers had ‘no control over their speed or direction while in freefall’, but could have opened their parachutes to slow their descent, the report added.
The board said it was ‘unfortunate’ that the air traffic controller at Lakenheath had not warned the pilots ‘due to the completion of the handover at a busy time’. The controller had not subsequently filed a report on the incident.
A US Air Force representative had recently retired at short notice, leading to a gap in the advisory post during which time a report related to the incident was overlooked.
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“A full-time liaison officer had been recruited and was due to be in post in the coming months – in the meantime, the post was being covered by other personnel.
“Despite the lack of report, he was able to provide the board with details about the circumstances.”
Chatteris, home to several skydiving centres, calls Lakenheath each morning to advise that they are active.
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