East Anglian airmen lost in Iraq

TWO East Anglian-based airmen were still missing today after their Tornado bomber was brought down in a "friendly fire" incident over Iraq.A search is under way for two British airmen and their Tornado GR4 aircraft from RAF Marham in Norfolk after they were downed by a US Patriot missile close to the Kuwait border as they returned from a mission.

TWO East Anglian-based airmen were still missing today after their Tornado bomber was brought down in a "friendly fire" incident over Iraq.

A search is under way for two British airmen and their Tornado GR4 aircraft from RAF Marham in Norfolk after they were downed by a US Patriot missile close to the Kuwait border as they returned from a mission.

The accident came as coalition forces said they had advanced half-way to the Iraqi capital and continued to push across the Iraqi desert.

There was also renewed resistance from Iraqi forces at the port town of Umm Qasr, where US Marines were involved in a fierce battle with squads bolstered by members of Saddam Hussein's special forces.

There were rumours today that one or more allied aircrew had ejected over Baghdad, leading to frantic searches by armed Iraqis on the banks of the River Tigris, shown live on Western TV.

US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld later said that some American soldiers were missing in Iraq and there was a report of a missing allied aircraft.

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But he refused to speculate on the reports and suggested the televised search in Baghdad was staged.

Today's "friendly fire'' incident was the third air disaster involving British servicemen since the war began on Thursday - none of which has been caused by enemy fire.

Six were killed when two British Sea King early warning helicopters collided in mid-air over the Gulf yesterday, while another eight personnel from 3 Commando Brigade, and four Americans, died when a US Sea Knight transport helicopter they were in crashed in the north Kuwait desert on Friday.

The commander of British forces in the Gulf, Air Marshal Brian Burridge, confirmed that one of his planes - the jet was based at RAF Marham, in Norfolk - had been shot down "by mistake''.

But he vowed that relations with the Americans were as strong as ever.

He said at allied Central Command in Qatar: "A military campaign is probably the most intimate alliance you can implement.

"We have two nations who share the risks, share the dangers and share the rewards.

"You develop a bond of trust because you are taking on responsibility for each other's lives,''

The accident was "very sad'', he said, adding that forces would put it behind them and continue with their objective.

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