2 UK airmen missing after RAF Tornado jets crash

Two British airmen were missing and two others were hospitalized after RAF Tornado jets crashed Tuesday off Scotland's coast, officials said.

As night fell, Britain's Ministry of Defense said the search for the two missing crew members had been called off due to bad weather but was expected to resume Wednesday morning.

It was not clear if the two aircraft crashed into each other.

Earlier, two crew members were plucked from the sea by helicopter, and the defense ministry said some wreckage had been recovered.

The ministry said the GR4 Tornado jets from RAF Lossiemouth were flying in the Moray Firth area in eastern Scotland when contact with them was lost. Group Capt. Ian Gale, the station commander at RAF Lossiemouth, confirmed "with great regret" the crash of two of his station's Tornado G4 aircraft.

"The circumstances remain uncertain, but clearly this is a very serious incident," he said in a statement. He would not speculate on what caused the crash.

Richard Smith of the Royal National Lifeboat Institution said the two crew pulled from the sea were sent to Raigmore Hospital in Inverness.

"Rescue operations are continuing, and I would like to record my gratitude for the ongoing efforts of all those involved," Gale said, adding that his thoughts are with the families and friends of those involved.

About 15 volunteers in three lifeboats joined the rescue operation after reports that two jets came down about 25 miles (40 kilometers) south of Wick.

The Royal Air Force operates Tornado GR4's from two bases — RAF Lossiemouth in Scotland and RAF Marham in England. The Tornados are two-seaters and described as "all-weather attack aircraft" capable of low-level supersonic flight.

It's not the first time Tornados have run into trouble in Scotland in recent years. In January, two crew from RAF Lossiemouth were rescued after their Tornado GR4 crashed into the sea off the west coast of Scotland.

The aircraft most recently saw action with the RAF over Libya and has also been used in Iraq and Afghanistan.

They are not part of the Ministry of Defense's multi-tiered defense plan for the upcoming London Olympics, which will depend on Typhoon jets to be used in London airspace.


Cassandra Vinograd can be reached at http://twitter.com/CassVinograd