August 7, 2008
Flights Hit ; Planes Cancelled and Delayed As Fighter Jet Crash Lands at Airport
By ALASTAIR CRAIG
HOLIDAYMAKERS were facing delays today and tomorrow after a fighter jet struck by a bird crash-landed at Newcastle Airport.
The RAF Tornado made a crisis diversion to the airport yesterday but overshot the runway by around 15 metres, forcing its complete closure.
Arrivals and departure flights were blocked last night with 18 planes cancelled or diverted.
Flights leaving the airport were expected to be affected today and tomorrow but will be going ahead.
Thousands have been warned they should expect delays of an hour.
And one flight from Corfu due to arrive at Newcastle at 5.45am today was diverted to Manchester as it would have landed at the same time as the Tornado was being moved.
A coach was due to bring passengers back to Newcastle.
Hundreds of North East families expecting to jet off on holiday were last night told their flights were cancelled or had been re- routed to Durham Tees Valley, Edinburgh or Manchester airports.
James Marsh, eight, from Newcastle, had been visiting grandparents on Tyneside before returning to Paris where his parents have relocated.
His Air France flight was meant to take off at 4.50pm but was cancelled for the night.
"I was a bit upset when I heard. I hope I can go home soon," he said.
Graeme and Debbie Liddle, both 40, of Stocksfield, Northumberland, were due to fly out for a two-week break in Antalya, Turkey, with their three children. But they were told in long queues checking in for the 6.25pm Thomas Cook flight, their plane had been diverted to Durham Tees Valley and they would have to take a coach to make a connection.
Graeme, a dental salesman, who has children, Jack, 16, Becky, 12, and Anna, eight, said: "It's incredibly frustrating because we were all looking forward to a stress-free summer holiday. But there's little you can do when something like this happens. You have to be happy rather than anything else that noone was injured badly or killed."
Jean Chapman, 66, from Chesterle-Street was this morning flying to Barcelona with her husband Colin and grandson Miguel. She said: "Our flight is going to be delayed by about 25 minutes so it's not too bad."
Ian Forsyth, 58, of Consett, is an ornithological consultant. He was to fly to Barcelona for a bird watching trip with friends in the Pyrenees.
"Our plane is about 45 minutes late.
I know a lot of about birds; the problem is the migration of birds at this time of year," he said.
Kris Forster, 52, from Ponteland was due to fly to Newquay this morning. She said there was hardly any information available at the airport and no one could tell them exactly what time their flight would be leaving. She said: "We will just have to wait and see."
The Tornado, which is used on reconnaissance missions supporting coalition forces in Iraq, came to rest on the grass at the far end of the strip near Dinnington village, its front wheel collapsing on landing.
The pilot and co-pilot were taken to hospital with cuts and bruises while a full-scale emergency alert was declared at the accident scene.
Fire crews based at the airport surrounded the stricken plane which came to a rest nose-down close to the perimeter fence. Scorch marks could be seen on the tail of the Tornado, which was flying in the area from its 13 Squadron base at RAF Marham in Norfolk.
Residents in nearby Dinnington village reported hearing a loud bang followed by emergency sirens.
The plane was removed from the runway on a huge crane at around 4.20am today. This morning it remained on a patch of grass on the south side of the airport where investigators from the Ministry of Defence worked to try and establish the cause of the incident.
A spokeswoman for Newcastle Airport said: "The Tornado was lifted onto a trailer at about 4.20am and it has now been removed away from the runway and is on what we call an apron on the south side of the airport.
"The flights can now operate as normal although there are several delays due to the knock-on effect.
Passengers travelling today and tomorrow can expect their flight to operate as normal but it might be subject to delay. If anyone is worried about connecting flights they should contact their airline."
Dinnington Road was closed temporarily between the village and the junction of Coach Lane as a precaution but the plane was not carrying explosives and by 6.15pm officials confirmed it posed no hazard.
An investigation team from RAF Leeming, near Northallerton, North Yorkshire, were due at the airport last night to organise the recovery of the fighter plane.
A spokesman for the MoD said: "An incident happened at Newcastle Airport and we are currently investigating.
The crew are safe and well.
A Tornado GR4 from 13 Squadron RAF Marham made an emergency landing. Nobody was injured in the incident and the RAF will recover the aircraft as soon as possible. We regret the inconvenience caused by the closure of the runway. An inquiry will be held."
Student James Rudd, 19, of Havannah Crescent, Dinnington, watched the drama unfold from his bedroom overlooking the runway.
He said: "There was a massive noise. There were fire engines all over it in what seemed like seconds and loads of frantic activity."
Graeme Mason, Planning and Corporate Affairs manager for Newcastle Airport, said last night's flight schedules had been cut because of the incident.
"At 4.55pm an RAF Tornado aircraft diverted into the airport with a suspected bird strike and the incident was declared a full emergency.
On landing, the tornado overshot the runway at the eastern end and came to a stop in the grassed area.
"Passengers with flights are advised to check the airport's website at www.newcastleinternational.co.uk and to check with their airline or tour operator before setting off for the airport.
"The runway at the airport was reopened with a reduced distance for landings and take-offs. As a result, the airport is operating a restricted flight programme.
Arrivals and departures may be subject to delay."
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