Portsmouth-based minesweeper joins hunt for missing RAF pilots

Defence correspondent om Cotterill on the jet simulator

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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, arrived at the crash site in the Moray Firth yesterday.

Flight Lieutenant Adam Sanders, 27, and Squadron Leader Sam Bailey, 36, are unaccounted for and are presumed dead.

Two other airmen were plucked from the water and airlifted to hospital after the crash. Flight Lieutenant Hywel Poole, 28, later died and an unnamed fourth flier is said to be seriously ill.

An RAF spokesman confirmed HMS Cattistock has been called in to search the wreckage site of the two £40m jets, which are thought to have sunk in 150ft of water.

The warship, which is usually used to discover enemy sea mines, has sophisticated sonar equipment to map the sea bed. It also has a state-of-the-art Sea Fox robot which is sent below the surface to beam back live video to the ship’s control room.

The 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.

The fatal mid-air crash may have been caused by fog, it was claimed earlier this week.

The two planes – each carrying a pilot and navigator – were not flying together but somehow collided at high speed in bad weather.

The RAF has denied claims that the airmen were tired.

A Ministry of Defence spokesman said: ‘A full investigation into this incident will be carried out by the Military Aviation Authority, which will be an independent investigation looking at all the possibilities of what might have happened.’