U.S. Air Force F-15 Crash Off U.K. Coast, Pilot Status 'Unknown'

An American F-15C Eagle fighter jet crashed into the North Sea off the British coast on Monday morning, the U.S. Air Force confirmed, with a search operation underway to ascertain the status of the pilot.

The 48th Fighter Wing confirmed the accident in a short statement that was posted to Twitter by BBC defense correspondent Jonathan Beale. It noted that the aircraft was on a routine training mission when it crashed at around 9:40 a.m. local time (4:40 a.m. ET).

The 48th Fighter Wing is part of the Air Force's Third Air Force, which operates with the Headquarters Air Command Europe. The unit is based at RAF Lakenheath, a British airbase in the eastern country of Suffolk along the North Sea coast.

More than 4,000 U.S. personnel are stationed at Lakenheath, which is the largest American air base in the U.K.

"The cause of the crash as well as the status of the pilot are unknown at this time," the 48th Fighter Wing explained in the brief statement. "U.K. Search and Rescue have been called to support."

The jet was flying as part of a four-aircraft formation at the time of the crash, which occurred off the coast near the northeastern city of Middlesborough, according to The Times defense editor Lucy Fisher.

The BBC said the crash site was approximately 74 nautical miles from the British coast, in an area Sky News reported is regularly used for American and British training missions.

The British coastguard confirmed it was assisting the search and rescue operation, telling the BBC: "The HM Coastguard helicopter from Humberside has been sent along with Bridlington and Scarborough RNLI lifeboats. Following a Mayday broadcast by HM Coastguard, other vessels nearby are heading to the area."

The aviation monitoring ScotMilAir account posted an image showing the recovery effort, with multiple aircraft circling the North Sea where the American jet went down.

The commander of the 48th Fighter Wing Colonel Will Marshall said in a video message on Monday that though the pilot remained missing, he was "hopeful that our Liberty Wing airman will be located and recovered."

"We will provide updates as they become available, while prioritizing respect and consideration for the pilot's family," Marshall added. "We are extremely grateful for the timely response of our U.K. counterparts in the support of these recovery efforts."

U.S. forces at Lakenheath have recorded other aircraft accidents in recent years. In October 2014 an F-15D plane from the base crashed in fields in the eastern country of Lincolnshire.

The crash was caused by the "angle of attack" of the plane and "imperfections" in the assembly of the nose cap, an investigation found. The pilot ejected safely and only sustained minor injuries.

In October 2015, pilot Major Taj Sareen, 34, died when his F-18 Hornet aircraft crashed into farmland near Lakenheath. An investigation found that Sareen did not report problems with his plane before takeoff.

F-15, fighter jet, crash, UK, north sea
This file photo shows a U.S. Air Force F-15 Eagle, assigned to the 173rd Fighter Wing, taking off from Kingsley Field in Klamath Falls, Oregon, April 25, 2018. Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images/Getty