On April 17th, two skydivers had a near miss with a couple of United States fighter jets that were flying close to 350mph (563kph) over the United Kingdom. The unidentified skydivers were free falling at approximately 120mph (193kph) as the two F15 fighter planes soared underneath them.
According to the official report from the U.K Airprox Board, the close call was recorded on the GoPro that was hooked up to the helmet of one of the skydivers. The one skydiver dubbed the chance of collision as “medium”.
The skydive team left from Chatteris airfield in Cambridgeshire as the planes were taking off from the Royal Air Force base situated in Lakenheath, Suffolk. The weather was decent, so both the fighter pilots and the skydivers had sufficient visibility.
Known parachute drop spots are supposed to be identified on aviation charts, meaning that it’s the responsibility of the aircraft operators in that region to note when skydivers might potentially cross a flight path.
The one pilot said to the investigators that he was unaware Chatteris was open to skydivers at that point, and there was no alert from air traffic control (ATC) either.
The report said, “When asked whether the pilots should be aware of Chatteris, the Board were told that it was included in their arrival training at Lakenheath, and that, as a result of this incident, the unit was re-briefing all of its crews to ensure they were all aware of its status.”
There were numerous reasons that may have caused the lack of communication; one possible factor was Lakenheath air traffic control’s high workload.
According to the report, “The Lakenheath controller was aware of the position of Chatteris, and the Board were told that each morning Chatteris called ATC to advise when they are active; the paradropping aircraft also calls on the frequency when they are airborne with parachutists. The controller believed he would have plenty of time to change the heading of the F15s when they came on frequency. However, the frequency became busy just as they transferred and so, by the time the F15 pilots checked in with the controller, they were already about to fly over Chatteris.”
After the skydivers saw the planes, “there was very little they could do to avoid the situation, having no control over their speed or direction whilst in free-fall”, however, some members of the board wanted to know if the skydiving team could have reduced their speed by deploying their parachutes.
The fact that the unknown skydivers didn’t deploy their parachutes and they weren’t diving in tandem, might indicate that the team possessed significant experience in the sport.