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Monday, August 22, 2011

Wearing his uniform with pride, the RAF pilot pictured with a fan on the day before he died in display crash

-Red Arrows grounded 'for weeks' as crash probe continues
-Experts probe theory he was killed after aircraft was struck by bird
-Post mortem shows the Flight Lieutenant died of multiple injuries

By Andy Dolan, Ian Drury, Luke Salkeld and James White

Meet and greet: Red Arrows pilot Jon Egging pictured with fan Samantha Barnes on the day before he died

Pictured wearing his Red Arrows display uniform with pride, this is one of the last photographs taken of tragic pilot Jon Egging just a day before he died.

The RAF pilot was taking part in a meet-and-greet with fans of the display team and is seen smiling as he is joined by enthusiast Samantha Barnes at a static display at the Bournemouth Air Festival.

The photograph emerged after it was claimed Flight Lieutenant Egging may have crashed when a bird hit his jet after Saturday's display over Bournemouth, Dorset. The famous squadron has now been grounded 'for weeks' according to an RAF source as the investigation into the crash continues.

Under investigation: The plane was left as a twisted heap of metal. Remains at the crash site suggest a 'catastrophic bird strike', said a senior RAF source

Jon and Emma Egging, 32, on their wedding day last June in their local village church in Morcott, Rutland. Hours after the crash she paid tribute to the 'exemplary pilot'

Investigators have discovered remains at the crash site which suggest a ‘catastrophic bird strike’, a senior RAF source said yesterday.

This could have extinguished the flame in the Hawk T1 jet’s engine – known as a flame out – resulting in a total loss of power.

The possible theory behind the tragic crash emerged as Flight Lieutenant Egging’s family suggested he crashed after being knocked unconscious during the jet’s final seconds.

A post-mortem examination of his body today revealed he died of multiple injuries.

The 33-year-old is said to have steered the Hawk away from houses before it crashed into the bank of a river as his wife watched on in horror.

The Red Arrows had just completed a display at the Bournemouth Air Festival when the single-engine jet went out of control as they returned to the seaside town’s airport on Saturday afternoon.

Witnesses yesterday told how they found the body of the pilot, known as ‘Eggman’, face down in the River Stour.

His ejector seat and helmet were nearby, while his parachute was also in the water.

Flight Lieutenant Egging’s grandmother said relatives have been told the pilot may have been unable to eject from the stricken jet because of the huge G-forces encountered when he banked at too sharp an angle.

The pilot managed to set the Hawk on a path away from homes in the nearby village of Throop, and issued a Mayday call and is thought to have been thrown from the wreckage on impact.

Doris Egging, 88, from Southam, Warwickshire, said: ‘Jon was a hero but he probably didn’t eject because he was unable to after being knocked out.

Wreckage: Part of the Red Arrow that plunged to the ground

‘I spoke to my son, Jon’s father Philip, and he sounded ill. He couldn’t take it in.

‘I’m told they were coming back at quite a height and this may have sent Jon’s plane out of control. Philip was told Jon was higher than he should have been when he banked.

‘I would very much believe he would sacrifice his own life to save others, that’s the way he was.’

Flight Lieutenant Egging, who grew up in the nearby village of Ufton, joined Southam’s Air Training Corps at 13. He was awarded a Royal Air Force bursary while at Southampton University, and joined in 2000.

In 2009 he completed a tour of duty in Afghanistan, flying a Harrier GR9 in support of ground forces. All Red Arrows pilots must complete at least one tour in order to join the elite display team.

Mrs Egging added: ‘He survived some hairy moments out there, by all accounts. It’s a terrible irony that he survived that, only to lose his life now.

‘But flying with the Red Arrows was his dream. He was so proud, as we all were of him.’

The pilot and his wife, Dr Emma Egging, 32, an academic at the British Museum, married last June in their local village church in Morcott, Rutland.

Hours after Saturday’s crash, the widow issued a moving tribute to the ‘exemplary pilot’, and said: ‘Watching him today, I was the proudest I’ve ever been. I loved everything about him’.

He was inspired to fly by his father, Philip, 59, a retired BA pilot. Both his father, who lives with second wife Linda, 53, in Alcester, Warwickshire, and mother, Dawn, a university administrator, 59 today, who still lives in Ufton, have travelled to Bournemouth.

In trouble: Amateur footage shows one of the Red Arrows peeling away from the rest of the team

Emergency: The plane then began to disappear from view, having issued a Mayday call

Out of sight: The plane disappeared from view, leaving a vapour trail behind. The crowd was left in a state of disbelief by the accident

Mrs Egging added: ‘But flying with the Red Arrows was his dream. He was so proud, as we all were of him.’

The pilot and his wife, Dr Emma Egging, 32, an academic at the British Museum, married last June in their local village church in Morcott, Rutland.

Nick Woods, 35, who discovered Flight Lieutenant Egging’s body in the water, said: ‘I could tell straight away it was too late. He was very badly injured, dead.

There was nothing I could do.’

Elite: The Red Arrows on Saturday before the devastating crash

Mr Woods described hearing a spluttering noise from the plane seconds before it hit the ground.

Yesterday, a senior RAF source said that investigators revealed they had found bird remains at the crash site.

Earlier this month, a bird strike forced a Red Arrow jet to make an emergency landing at the Blackpool Air show, while in 1997, a Red Arrows jet made an emergency landing after flying into a flock of birds during training.

The Red Arrows have used the dual control BAE Systems Hawk T1 aircraft since 1979. There are 170 of the training aircraft in service with the RAF and all have been grounded.

Formed in 1965, the Red Arrows have completed more than 4,000 displays. Though there have been other crashes, the last deaths occurred in 1978 when two pilots were killed during a practice session.

Around 30 apply to join each year, whittled down to a shortlist of nine who must then pass flying tests. Of those that pass, the current pilots select three to join the team, based on their personal qualities, in a closed selection meeting.

There are no reserve pilots as one pilot could not learn all nine positions to the standard required. If members are unavailable, the team perform in a smaller formation.

Yesterday a minute’s silence was held for Flight Lieutenant Egging and a tribute film shown at the Bournemouth Air Festival before yesterday’s air displays began.

A spokesman at the Red Arrows’ base at Scampton, Lincolnshire, refused to speculate on the cause of the crash, which is being looked into by a MoD-led Service Inquiry.



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