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Thank god it didn't hit the school; Parents' horror at mid-air crash.

SHOCKED parents told last night how their children escaped disaster when an RAF Tornado and a light plane collided above their school.

Two Tornado pilots and two men in a Cessna died in yesterday's mid-air collision.

The single-engine civilian plane plummeted out of clear blue skies and disintegrated in a field just 200 yards from a primary school.

One father, 42-year-old Rob Morley, said: "When I heard how close the wreckage had come to the school, I shed a tear. We can only thank the Lord."

A police spokesman said: "The fact that the aircraft missed the school was more down to luck than to anything else."

Two teachers were giving morning lessons to 69 children aged between four and 11 as the Tornado, flying at 1,500ft, sliced into the Cessna above the Nottinghamshire villages of Everton and Mattersey.

One of the Tornado GR1 crewmen ejected but was killed as he was blasted from the cockpit.

The other is believed to have bravely stayed at the controls to steer the doomed jet away from houses in Everton.

Parents heard the collision and watched in horror as the wreckage of the small plane hurtled towards Mattersey Primary School.

Mum-of-two Teresa Mapplebeck, 27 - whose four-year-old daughter Stephanie was in class - said: "There was a huge crack. I looked up and saw an aeroplane falling from the sky.

"I panicked, I thought it had come down on the school."

Mrs Mapplebeck ran to the school barefoot. She said: "When I got there I saw a wing and what looked like a pilot's map on the ground. It was such a near miss and some parents were crying with relief.

"My two-year-old son Liam is already scared stiff by the planes. He'll be even more so now."

Mr Morley's eight-year-old daughter Sam was sitting near a window learning her sums.

She said: "We heard a really big bang like thunder. Then we saw a plane falling down. We could see a man in a parachute. Everyone rushed to the window."

Head teacher Elaine Allan was on a course in Nottingham when her secretary phoned her with the news.

She drove straight to the school and found everyone safe.

She said: "I felt completely relieved.

"In the afternoon, different classes had their regular Thursday afternoon sing-song and school life continued as normal. The children did not seem too upset."

She said they had become used to low-flying RAF aircraft, but added: "With the benefit of hindsight, it is a concern. An incident likes this makes you think."

The Tornado was being piloted by an Italian trainee assisted by a British instructor.

It was about 10 minutes into a one-hour training flight from RAF Cottesmore near Oakham, Leicestershire, when it ploughed into the Cessna.

The RAF has begun an urgent investigation into how the tragedy could have happened in perfect flying conditions. The victims had not been named last night.

A total of about 600 people live in neighbouring Everton and Mattersey.

Calam Newton, 27-year-old assistant manager at the Hall Farm Home for adults with learning difficulties, saw the Tornado crash 400 yards from the home at Everton. He said last night: "When I arrived wreckage was scattered over a half- mile radius and there was a body in pieces.

"I believe one of the officers gave his life to save ours.

"He must have stayed at the controls until the last possible second to steer the plane away from the village.

"If he had ejected straight after the collision it would have nose-dived straight into the home and other houses directly in its flight path."

Eight fire engines and a fleet of ambulances rushed to the crash sites three miles apart, but there were no survivors.

Beryl Peck, 70, was driving with her sister Marjorie when she saw the Tornado crash in flames, bringing down power lines.

She said: "The plane had flames coming out of its engines and was flying at speed very low. There were bits of debris falling from the sky. It disappeared behind a hill. There was a huge explosion and mushroom cloud and the electricity supply to Everton was cut off."

Another villager, Douglas Scrivener, recalled: "I saw this little plane coming around in a sort of big circle.

"It came around again and then suddenly a jet just went right through the middle of it."

Everton post mistress Gina Oakley, 39, said: "As the jet came over us all the electricity went off and car alarms blared into life.

"People were running into the street to see what on earth was going on.

"When the jet finally crashed it looked like a bomb had gone off in the fields."

Graham Walker, 37, said: "The jet was so low I thought it was going to take the roofs off the houses."

"When you think of all the families in both villages it makes you shudder."

The Cessna had left Gamston airstrip in nearby Retford earlier in the day.

Builder Richard Anyon, 34, watched it circling and thought it could be taking photographs. He said: "It began to bank left and as it did this jet came very fast from nowhere and hit it.

"There was an almighty bang. The Tornado just seemed to keep going and fly through the debris.

"There was absolutely nothing left of the Cessna."

Both Everton and Mattersey lie below the frequently used low-flying path of RAF planes based at Cottesmore.

Some villagers have claimed the tragedy was"an accident waiting to happen.

The Cottesmore Tornado base is used for training by British, German and Italian airmen.

The station's acting commander, Wing Commander Crispin Edmonds, said their Tornados would be grounded while checks were made to make sure the crash was not caused by a mechanical fault. He said: "We will stop flying, take care of the families and then begin flying again.".

Between 20 and 30 training missions are flown from the base every day.

Wing Commander Edmonds promised to review the route over nearby villages.

He added: "We train for war and it is part of our culture to accept these risks, gear ourselves up for it and, following a tragedy like this, carry on."

It is the third fatal crash involving Tornados since the base was set up 20 years ago.

The pounds 20million jets can fly at 600 miles an hour and played a vital part in the Gulf War and recent bombardment of Iraq.

Tory MP Alan Duncan, whose Rutland and Melton constituency includes Cottesmore, said he was deeply saddened by the deaths. He said the base was"maintained to the highest standards.
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Copyright 1999 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Jan 22, 1999
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