THE Royal Navy minesweeper HMS Cattistock is to search for the bodies of two missing pilots after two RAF Tornado jets crashed off the Scottish coast on Tuesday.
The Portsmouth-based warship, which boasts sophisticated sonar technology, will arrive at the crash site in the Moray Firth later today.
Flight Lieutenant Adam Sanders, 27, and Squadron Leader Sam Bailey, 36, are unaccounted for following the incident and are presumed dead.
Two other airmen were plucked from the water after the crash and airlifted to hospital.
Flight Lieutenant Hywel Poole, 28, later died in hospital. An unnamed fourth flier was said to be seriously ill in Raigmore Hospital, Inverness, last night.
An RAF spokesman confirmed Cattistock has been called in to search the wreckage site of the two £40m jets, which are said to have sunk in about 150ft of water following the crash.
The warship, which is usually used to discover enemy sea mines, uses sonar equipment to map the sea bed and has naval divers on board should they be needed.
It also boasts a state-of-the-art SeaFox robot which can be sent below the surface to beam back live video to the ship’s operations room.
The two jets from RAF Lossiemouth plunged into the Moray Firth about 25 miles south of Wick on Tuesday after completing a practice bombing raid on a Ministry of Defence firing range.
A fatal mid-air collision may have been caused by fog, it was claimed earlier this week.
It’s been reported that the two planes – each carrying a pilot and navigator – were not flying together but somehow collided at high speed in bad weather.
One line of inquiry will be whether either crew asked ground radar stations if other aircraft were nearby.
Another is tiredness. Families of military personnel at RAF Lossiemouth say their loved ones were overworked and exhausted because of cutbacks.
But the MoD has denied the claims, with an RAF source quoted as saying the comments were ‘wrong and appalling’.
Crash investigators will also explore the possibilities of mechanical failure, a bird strike and human error.
A Ministry of Defence spokesman said: ‘A full investigation into this incident will carried out by the Military Aviation Authority, which will be an independent investigation looking at all the possibilities of what might have happened.’