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Two U.S. F-15Cs Missing After Routine Training Over Northern Scotland

Aired March 26, 2001 - 11:04 a.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: First now with a developing story we've been following all morning, here's Kyra.

KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: Yes. Are they missing or not? We've been told that two U.S. fighter jets were missing while on a training exercise in the Scottish highlands. Then we were told they weren't missing. The story's going back and forth.

We're going to go back to Jamie McIntyre who's got some more information for us, our military correspondent -- Jamie, what is the latest now?

JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN MILITARY AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, Kyra, here's the bottom line. Two jets are missing. They're F-15C models. That means they are single-seat jets. Two U.S. Air Force pilots were on a routine mission over Northern Scotland. There are a number of training ranges up there.

The planes were supposed to be back more than an hour ago to the U.S. base at RAF Lakenheath just east of London. There was some initial confusion. Initially, the Pentagon said that they had confirmed that two F-15E, which is a two-seat model, were -- were missing. Then they came back to tell us that there had been a mistake, that all the planes were accounted for.

But now we have word from the highest authorities at the Pentagon that the confusion has been sorted out to the extent that they now know two U.S. F-15Cs are missing after routine training over Northern Scotland.

Now what happened to the planes we still don't know. There's still some confusion about that. Could they have been involved in an accident? Did they have to have an emergency landing? All they know is that they were supposed to be back more than an hour ago to their base in England and they have not returned from this training mission over Scotland.

But, again, despite the initial confusion, two U.S. Air force F- 15C fighter planes are overdue to report to Lakenheath air base in England. A search is underway to see if they can locate the planes, in fact, if they may have crashed -- Kyra, back to you.

PHILLIPS: Jamie, who's involved in the search, and how is it taking place?

MCINTYRE: Well, at this point, all we know is that -- we know that the British authorities have launched a search-and-rescue operation over the air. I'm not aware at this point whether any U.S. military planes are involved in that search, but it -- this, again, just happened a short time ago, and there's been some initial confusion. So we'll have to see how the search efforts unfold.

PHILLIPS: All right. Jamie McIntyre, thank you for the update -- Daryn.

KAGAN: Well, we should be able to get some more information on that search from London. Our Tom Mintier is standing by there.

Tom, do you have any information on what they're doing to look for these jets that the Pentagon now is finally confirming are indeed missing?

TOM MINTIER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I do, Daryn. About 16 minutes ago, the Royal Air Force confirmed that the two F-15Cs from the 493rd fighter squadron were indeed missing and that a search-and-rescue had been launched.

Now, the Royal Air Force search-and-rescue teams were launched probably about a half-hour ago. Two Nimrods, three helicopters, and two RAF mountain teams had been dispatched. Also, a civilian mountain-and-rescue team from Cairngorm Mountain have gone out the door, and they are preparing to send others out the door.

Now these aircraft were last heard from about four hours ago, just -- just under four hours ago. That was when they had their last radar contacts. So sometime has transpired. They were at first reported overdue, and then as the hours and minutes ticked by, they changed that overdue to missing, and the first word here in England indeed came from the RAF, from Lakenheath, the base that they were located in.

Now the F-15s are the only place in -- Lakenheath is the only place the F-15s flies out of Europe. It is the land-based station at -- Royal Air Force station at Lakenheath. It's about 70 miles northeast of London, but the area where they were in were in the Highlands -- in the Scottish Highlands, according to British defense ministry officials.

So, as it stands right now, they are officially listed as missing by the Brits, say they have launched a Royal Air Force search- and-rescue team based in Kinloss, and they have sent two Nimrods, three helicopters, and two RAF mountain teams, in addition to a civilian effort that is already underway -- Kyra.

KAGAN: It's actually Daryn. That's OK, Tom. We're talking a mountainous area. So this is a terrain that might be more difficult than others to find -- if, in fact, these planes are down, it might be more difficult to spot them in a mountainous region.

MINTIER: Most definitely. With low cloud visibility, it's going to be extremely difficult to do some of theses air operations. The search teams on the ground will be working in pretty rough terrain, so -- this is an aircraft that was on a low-flying exercise as it was, so it's in extremely rugged terrain, and the ceiling is quite low in the mountains in Scotland. So we may hear first from the ground-support teams.

KAGAN: And as we understand it, these planes on a routine training mission. Can you tell us anything about the Air Force presence in Scotland?

MINTIER: Well, the Air Force presence is in England at Lakenheath, and this is a unit, the 493rd fighter squadron, that's been involved in everything from Southern Watch to Desert Storm and even the strikes on Libya many, many years ago. This is a training operation. They go on day in and day out in all kinds of weather.

With the radar that this aircraft is equipped with, it does spot terrain and works with it very well. What happened in this instance, in this low-flying exercise we probably won't know for some time, but we -- all we do know right now is that the two aircraft were first overdue, and now they're listed as officially missing by the RAF, and they have already launched a search effort for them.

KAGAN: And the search goes on. Tom Mintier from our London bureau, thank you for the latest on that.

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