Fenland parachutists have near miss with US fighter jets in skies over Chatteris
Two freefalling parachutists nearly had a mid air collision with two American fighter jets as they fell over Fenland.
A UK Airprox Board highlights the near miss in a report published this week which said the skydivers could do nothing to avoid the situation, once they had seen the fighter jets below.
The US F15 fighter planes were travelling at almost 350mph (560km/h), as the skydivers were falling at 120mph from above them on April 17 this year.
The skydivers recorded the aircraft pass under them on a helmet camera as they fell over the North London Skydiving Centre at Block Fen, near Wimblington, but the report said it was difficult to determine from the images produced just how close the two were.
The report said the pilots from RAF Lakenheath should have been told by air traffic control the Cambridgeshire parachute site was active and the the US Air Force has now said it is re-briefing crews to make them aware.
Despite being unable to determine how close the jets and parachutists came to colliding the board 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 before to avoid a refuelling tanker and were then handed over from air traffic controllers at RAF Coningsby in Lincolnshire to those at Lakenheath in Suffolk.
"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 its position and activities as part of their normal briefing routine", and either questioned air traffic control or avoided it, it added.
The report praised operators from the Chatteris airfield, where several parachute clubs are based, for their "proactive" approach.
The report said: "Chatteris call Lakenheath each morning to advise that they are active, the RAF Swanwick representative explained that they also received a call each morning. The Board commended the Chatteris operators for their pro-active approach and thought that there was very little more that Chatteris could have done from an operational perspective to prevent the Airprox. "
The report added: "Once the parachutists had seen the F15s there was very little they could do to avoid the situation, having no control over their speed or direction whilst in free-fall."
In assessing the effectiveness of the safety barriers associated with this incident, the Board concluded that various key elements were ineffective.
It found: air traffic control did not advise the fighter pilots Chatteris was active; the pilots did not have sufficient information to allow them to keep clear of Chatteris due to the timing of the air traffic control handover; the F15s flew over Chatteris paradropping site while paradropping was in progress; the F15 pilots should have known Chatteris was active before getting airborne.
The report concluded: "See and Avoid were assessed as ineffective because the F15 crews did not see the parachutists and neither the F15 crews nor the parachutists were able to take any action."
Last summer the Duchess of Cornwall was involved in a near miss over the airfield as she flew in the Royal helicopter from Sandringham.