LONDON – Two amateur soccer players on their way to match on a summer afternoon were among 11 people known to have died in the fiery crash of a vintage fighter jet in southeastern England. Police fear the death toll will rise as the crash site is cleared.
The Hawker Hunter jet slammed onto a highway Saturday after it failed to pull out of a loop manoeuvr during the Shoreham Airshow, plowing through cars on the road and exploding in a huge fireball. The wreckage was scheduled to be removed from the site, about 75 kilometres (45 miles) south of London, on Monday.
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Assistant Chief Constable Steve Barry of Sussex Police told the BBC on Monday that he’d be surprised if the number of deaths “doesn’t go above” the 11 currently known, but “would be really surprised if it would be more than 20.”
Among those confirmed dead were Matthew Grimstone and Jacob Schilt, both 23, travelling together on their way to play in a soccer match. Personal trainer Matt Jones, 24, was also killed, his family said.
The Civil Aviation Authority has begun reviewing safety procedures but said that such disasters are very rare.
The pilot, former Royal Air Force instructor Andrew Hill, 51, was in critical condition. Police issued a statement at the request of his family expressing their devastation and sadness for the loss of life.
“They send their prayers and heartfelt condolences to the families of all those affected at this difficult time,” the statement said.
The A27 highway, which runs along the south coast, is expected to remain closed for days. Barry said the scene was devastating.
“It’s about 400 yards (meters) of the dual carriageway and extends into the airfield itself,” Barry said. “And there is debris and damage littered everywhere.”
Authorities have been mapping and recording the scene as part of a forensic investigation. They plan to use a crane to lift the aircraft from the trees where it came to rest, but say it will be a delicate operation.
“There is a suggestion that, there’s still fuel in the aircraft and the status of the ejector seats suggests that there still may be some charge in them, so it’s obviously very important that that’s all made safe before the aircraft is moved,” Barry said.
The Civil Aviation Authority said there have been 10 fatal incidents at U.K. airshows in the last 15 years, though Saturday’s incident was the first to involve anyone other than the aircrew.
Britain’s deadliest air-show accident was in 1952, when the engine of a supersonic de Havilland 110 plane fell into a crowd at the Farnborough Air Show in southern England, killing 29 people on the ground and two on the plane.
In 2007 a pilot at the Shoreham Airshow died after performing an unplanned manoeuvr in a World War II Hurricane.
Associated Press Writers Jill Lawless and Sylvia Hui in London contributed to this story.
©2015The Canadian Press