Tuesday 28 February 2017

Rescuers found Red Arrows pilot dead in river

Martin Halfpenny

The scene near Bournemouth Airport in Dorset minutes after Red Arrows pilot Flight Lieutenant Jon Egging crashed his plane. Photo: PA
The scene near Bournemouth Airport in Dorset minutes after Red Arrows pilot Flight Lieutenant Jon Egging crashed his plane. Photo: PA

A man spoke today of the moment rescuers searching for a Red Arrows pilot minutes after his plane had crashed found him dead in a river.





Flight Lieutenant Jon Egging's Hawk T1 aircraft plunged to the ground near Bournemouth Airport in Dorset yesterday, partly ending up it in the River Stour after completing a display over the town's seafront.



He was discovered with his parachute open but apparently not in his ejection seat.



John Dugdale did not hear the crash but was soon at the scene when a rescue helicopter starting hovering above.



"Somebody ran past me saying 'one of the reds has gone down'. I just thought this is not happening," Mr Dugdale said.



"I ran over and there was a small group of people and you could see part of the wreckage of the aircraft on the riverbank.



"At least one of the group had entered the water and was looking in the river for the pilot.



"One then shouted out he could see a parachute and then he shouted out he had got him (the pilot) and someone said, 'is he dead?' and the man in the water replied 'yes'.



"There was a lot of bushes on the bank and he was found just away from me in a bend of the river. I did not see him."



Mr Dugdale said he thought the ejection seat was found away from the body.



He went on: "Soon there were emergency services everywhere and the helicopter landed and we began to be cleared away.



"I went straight back home because it was extremely upsetting.



"I had gone down to watch the display because I am a member of the Red Arrows Association and a fan. It was such a shame that his wife was at the display."



Tributes were today paid to Flt Lt Egging, who is said to have guided the plane away from houses and people before it smashed into a field and came to a standstill with its nose in the river near the village of Throop.



His wife, Dr Emma Egging, said she was "the proudest I've ever been" after watching his performance in the skies above the seaside resort.



Colleagues described the 33-year-old as a "true team player" and "gifted aviator".



Dr Egging said yesterday: "Jon was everything to those that knew him, and he was the best friend and husband I could ever have wished for.



"I know that he would have wanted me to say something from the heart at this time.



"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, and he will be missed," she said.



Dorset Police said the pilot had been thrown from the aircraft and was pronounced dead at the scene.



An MoD spokesman said: "A full service inquiry into the details of the crash has been initiated. It would be inappropriate to speculate on the causes of the incident at this time."



Nicholas Gore, 22, was walking with a friend close to the river when he saw all nine Red Arrows overhead following the display at the Bournemouth Air Festival.



"There were quite a few people watching and we saw them go over but one seemed quite low," he said.



"They then disappeared behind trees and I heard a crack - not an explosion - just a crack and we got further down and I saw the plane with its red tail in the air and its nose in the river.



"Shortly afterwards there were emergency services everywhere."



One eyewitness said the plane had skidded for several hundred metres along the riverbank after it crashed.



Mark Grogan, who was playing a round of golf nearby at the time of the crash, said: "I heard a sound like a car backfiring."



He added: "Within five minutes the helicopters arrived, there were at least five helicopters including the police and two from the coastguard.



"One of the local farmers said they'd seen rescue teams pulling the pilot out of the river."



Wayne Kent, 30, the assistant manager of the nearby Broadway Pub, said some of his customers had seen the incident, and that the pilot guided the plane away from houses in the village and from people walking near the riverbank.



Nick Woods, 36, told how he discovered the pilot's body in the Stour.



According to the Sunday Telegraph, he and his friend Finlay ran across the field after the crash and saw the Red Arrow on the bank.



Mr Woods told the newspaper: "We jumped into the water, found the ejector seat, pulled it up, but it was clean - no one in it.



"I swam across the river and saw the parachute, and that's where I found him. He was near a steep bank, in deep water. He was very badly injured, dead."



Chief Inspector Steve White, of Dorset Police, said: "On approach to the airport one aircraft crashed into a field near Throop Mill, Bournemouth.



"The aircraft came to rest on the banks of the River Stour, and the emergency services including police, fire, ambulance, coastguard search and rescue and a Dorset and Somerset Air Ambulance attended.



"Sadly the pilot, who had been thrown from the aircraft, was pronounced dead at the scene."



He said the emergency services responded as soon as they were alerted, and added that he did not know whether the pilot ejected from the aircraft.



In a statement, Group Captain Simon Blake, the Commandant of the RAF's Central Flying School, said: "Flt Lt Jon Egging, known as Eggman, joined the team as Red 4 in the autumn of 2010.



"A gifted aviator, he was chosen to fly in the Red 4 slot, on the right hand outside of the famous diamond nine formation - an accolade in itself being the most demanding position allocated to a first year pilot.



"Throughout his winter training and the display season to date, his professionalism, skill and humility have shone through.



"A true team player, his good nature and constant smile will be sorely missed by all. In such a close knit team, this tragedy will be keenly felt by his fellow team members, the Reds, and all of the engineering and support staff, the Blues."



Flt Lt Egging, from Rutland, was inspired to fly by his airline pilot father, who used to let him into the cockpit for takeoff and landing.



He joined the RAF in 2000 and served with IV(AC) Squadron based at RAF Cottesmore, flying the Harrier GR9 in support of coalition forces in Afghanistan.



Since 1979 the Red Arrows have used the dual control BAE Systems Hawk T1 aircraft.



According to the aerobatic team's website, the planes' Rolls-Royce engines produce 5,200lbs of thrust and give a top speed of Mach 1.2.



They have been based at RAF Scampton in Lincolnshire since 2001.



Festival organisers said the RAF would continue its other displays at the air festival today but the Red Arrows would not perform.



Mark Smith, head of Bournemouth Tourism, said it was "the wishes of the RAF to continue with their other flying displays" and that the pilots had "expressed their wishes to continue".



"The Red Arrows will not be performing," he added.



Grp Capt Blake told the BBC the MoD had grounded the Hawk team Mk 1 "temporarily until its safety can be assured".



He continued: "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, but suffice to say in the short term they will not be able to perform in public."



Two books of condolence will open at Bournemouth Town Hall today so people can pay tribute to Flt Lt Egging.



Councillor Peter Charon, leader of Bournemouth Council, said the books would allow people to "express their sympathy and record memories".



Meanwhile, Councillor Chris Rochester, Mayor of Bournemouth, told of his "immense sympathy" for the pilot's family.



He said in a statement: "In particular I send my heartfelt condolences to his wife Emma, following this dreadful accident.



"Every account I have heard of Flt Lt Egging, describes him as a man of extreme bravery, integrity and honour, held in the highest regard by all those who knew him.



"The RAF has clearly lost an exceptional pilot and his family a man who was loved and cherished. My sincere condolences are extended to his family, friends and colleagues."



The condolence books will be available for signing at Bournemouth Town Hall from 10am to 8pm today, and every day this week from 8.30am until 5.15pm.



They will then be given to Flt Lt Egging's family, and collected donations will be given to the family's chosen charity.

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