Searchers find wreckage where F-15s disappeared

Tuesday, March 27th 2001, 12:00 am

By: News On 6

(LONDON) - Search teams have found wreckage in the Scottish Highlands where two U.S. F-15 jets were reported missing, the Royal Air Force said Tuesday.

The wreckage was found near the summit of 4,296-foot Ben Macdui, one of the peaks in the Cairngorm mountains, Britain's highest mountain range.

``At this stage, we are not in a position to identify the wreckage which is believed to be of one aircraft together with spare fuel tanks,'' a Royal Air Force statement said.

``Weather conditions at present are hampering the search with 40 knot (46 mph) winds and whiteout snow. The rescue teams are continuing the search for further evidence of a crash.''

The search was being conducted by up to 250 Royal Air Force members, police and civilian personnel, including three RAF mountain rescue teams from Kinloss, Leuchars and Leeming.

The aircraft - each with one pilot on board - disappeared 45 minutes after taking off for a training mission Monday from Lakenheath air base, 75 miles northeast of London. Weather in the Cairngorms at the time was cold and bright with good visibility, the Meteorological Office said.

The F-15s disappearance and a crash Monday of a U.S. Army reconnaissance plane in Germany that killed two pilots are the latest in a string of tragic military mishaps in recent weeks.

In Germany, a U.S. team was due to arrive from Fort Rucker, Ala., home of the Army Safety Center, to investigate the crash of the Army RC-12, a twin-engine propeller aircraft used to detect, identify and locate enemy radar and electronic communications.

The plane crashed in a forest about eight miles from Nuremberg, killing the two pilots on board, as it was returning to base in Wiesbaden, Army spokeswoman Hilde Patton said from 5th Corps headquarters at Heidelberg.

German and American authorities at the scene were attempting to recover the pilots' remains from the crash scene, Patton said.

There was no initial indication of what caused the crash, Patton said. The identities of the pilots - assigned to the 205th Military Intelligence Brigade - were being withheld until their families could be notified.

It is unusual for more than one U.S. military plane to crash on the same day, but fatal training accidents are by no means rare. On March 3 an Army C-23 Sherpa crashed in Georgia, killing all 21 people on board. On March 12, five American servicemen and one New Zealand army officer were killed when a U.S. Navy F/A-18 mistakenly hit them with bombs during training in Kuwait.

On Feb. 12, two Army Black Hawk helicopters collided during a nighttime training session in Hawaii on Feb. 12, killing six soldiers.

Statistics show that, overall, U.S. military aviation has become safer in recent years. For the fiscal year ended last Sept. 30, the military aviation accident rate was 1.23 per 100,000 flight hours - the lowest ever recorded. Fifty-eight service members were killed in aviation accidents that year, including one of the worst in years - a Marine Corps V-22 Osprey crash last April that killed all 19 Marines aboard.

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