An American fighter jet crashed during a routine training exercise in Great Britain this morning and the pilot was killed. Officials from the base confirmed the news about an hour after announcing search crews had located wreckage from the downed jet. The pilot has now been identified as 1st Lt. Kenneth Allen.
The F-15C Eagle went down in the North Sea, which is off the eastern coast of England, at 9:40 a.m. local time. The jet was part of the 48th Fighter Wing at Royal Air Force Lakenheath in Suffolk, England.
According to a statement from the Royal Air Force, Allen was the only person on board. U.K. Search and Rescue teams were called in to help with the operation. The commander of the 48th Fighter Wing, Colonel Will Marshall, said in a video statement that updates would be provided “while prioritizing respect and consideration for the pilot’s family.”
Here’s what you need to know:
It Was Not Clear Whether Allen Ejected or Issued a Distress Call
The F-15C Eagle crashed while flying as part of a four-plane formation, the New York Times reported. The RAF Lakenheath base posted a photo on Twitter showing three jets in the air before the crash occurred. The caption read, “Ready to take on Monday like…#WeAreLiberty! #ReadyAF”
The New York Times reported that it was unclear whether the pilot had ejected and that a U.S. military official said it did not appear Allen made a distress call.
The Jet Was Believed to Have Crashed About 74 Nautical Miles Off the Coast
Local news outlet Sky News, citing the Coastguard, reported that search and rescue teams had information that the aircraft had gone down about 74 nautical miles off the East Yorkshire coast. WIO News reported that based on flight tracking tools, the aircraft may have circled before going down. Helicopters, lifeboats and other vessels responded to the area to look for the jet and the pilot.
RAF Lakenheath is the largest U.S. Air Force-operated base in England, according to the base’s website. It’s also the only American base in Europe that houses an F-15 fighter wing. The 48th Fighter Wing is also known by its nickname, the Statue of Liberty Wing.
There are more than 4,500 active-duty military members at Lakenheath. Its mission is laid out on the website:
Historically, the 48th FW has been the foundation of USAFE’s combat capability and remains so today. The Liberty Wing led the El Dorado Canyon raids into Libya in 1986 and was the first F-111 fighter unit to deploy to the Gulf during Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm. The Liberty Wing also anchored NATO forces during Operations Deliberate Force and Allied Force. Since September 11, 2001, the 48th FW has played a key role in antiterrorism operations, flying combat missions and providing combat support in Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom. The 48th FW continues to provide responsive combat capability for our NATO allies and the U.S. military at every turn.
The F-15 Eagle Is the Primary Fighter Jet Used by the Air Force
The U.S. Air Force has been using the F-15 Eagle aircraft since 1974 and it is the primary fighter jet the military uses. The F-15C model, which is the type the missing pilot was flying, has been in use since 1979. A Royal Air Force spokesman, Martin Tinworth, told NDTV the F-15C has an “exceptional flight safety record.”
There have been several incidents involving F-15s in recent years. According to the Air Force Times, an F-15 that was deployed as part of President Donald Trump’s protection unit was forced to make an emergency landing at Joint Base Andrews in May 2020 after its landing gear failed. Also in May, an F-22 and an F-35 crashed days apart at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida; both pilots ejected and survived.
In June 2018, an F-15C that was stationed at Kadena Air Base in Japan crashed into the ocean during a training mission. The pilot ejected and suffered injuries but was safely recovered. According to the accident report, investigators determined that crash had been due to pilot error.
In October 2014, an F-15D fighter jet that was based at RAF Lakenheath went down in a field. Investigators concluded the crash was due to a faulty nose cap. The pilot ejected and was not seriously hurt. The BBC, citing the USAF reported that the “sealant used to secure the nose cap in place extruded from under the nose cap… and formed an uneven aerodynamic surface.” The report also stated that there was no indication of any problems in the aircraft’s maintenance record.