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Air disaster averted over North-East.

Byline: By Daniel Cochlin

A passenger plane was seconds from disaster when it narrowly avoided a mid-air crash with two fighter jets over the Northumberland coast, it emerged yesterday.

The Eastern Airways JS41 aircraft, which left Durham Tees Valley airport at 9.50am for Aberdeen, was forced to climb rapidly to avoid two Harrier jump jets above the stretch of coast from Alnwick to Berwick on Tuesday, February 1.

About 15 passengers, mostly businessmen, were making the short trip when the plane's warning system identified the other aircraft at 10.20am.

The pilots, who were cruising at 16,500 feet and travelling at 300mph, were forced to make a drastic manoeuvre to avoid a crash by climbing 600ft to a safe position.

The Civil Aviation Authority has ordered a full investigation into what happened.

The incident is the latest near-miss to happen over the Northumberland sky.

Since 1998, there have been 20 serious near misses over North-East airspace.

These include an RAF Harrier missing a civilian helicopter at Corbridge, Northumberland, on December 11, 1998, by less than 100ft ( a danger branded Category A, or very high risk. More recently, on July 2, 2002, the RAF was heavily criticised after a Jaguar fighter jet came within 100ft of hitting a passenger plane with 80 North-East passengers on board.

Investigators called it "one of the most serious airprox (near misses) they had seen".

Coun Peter Hillman, who represents Northumberland on the Inter Authority Working Group on Low Flying in the North, called for urgent action.

He said: "This is becoming far too frequent for my liking, and it is high time that something was done about this.

"The subject is one I am planning to discuss with the working group.

"But it has come to the point where we are going to have to put more pressure on the industry.

"We have to tackle this as a matter of urgency before something disastrous happens."

Eastern Airways is a small short-haul national airline. Its chief operating officer, Chris Holiday, said last night a disaster was only averted by the efficiency of their warning systems.

He said: "The pilot climbed about 500 or 600ft after the aircraft's warning system detected near-flying planes.

"The equipment we have invested in did its job and ensured the safety of our aircraft."

A Ministry of Defence spokeswoman said the RAF would implement any of the recommendations made by the CAA investigation.

She said: "We are aware of an incident in that proximity and we will take any necessary action which comes from the official report."
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Publication:The Journal (Newcastle, England)
Date:Feb 12, 2005
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