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Flight Lieutenant Jon Egging was a team player and gifted aviator, colleagues said. Photograph: MoD/PA
A witness has spoken of the moment rescuers searching for a crashed Red Arrows jet found the pilot’s body in a river.
Flight Lieutenant Jon Egging’s Hawk T1 aircraft came down near Bournemouth airport in Dorset on Saturday, after a display over the town’s seafront. The pilot was discovered with his parachute open, but he apparently was not in his ejection seat.
John Dugdale said he had not heard the crash but was soon at the scene when a rescue helicopter starting hovering above. “Somebody ran past me saying: ‘One of the reds has gone down.’ I ran over and there was a small group of people and you could see part of the wreckage of the aircraft on the riverbank,” he said.
“At least one of the group had entered the water and was looking in the river for the pilot. One then shouted out he could see a parachute and then he shouted out he had got him [the pilot] and someone said: ‘Is he dead?’ and the man in the water replied: ‘Yes.’
“There were a lot of bushes on the bank and he was found just away from me in a bend of the river. I did not see him.”
Dugdale said he thought the ejection seat was found away from the body. “Soon there were emergency services everywhere and the helicopter landed and we began to be cleared away. I went straight back home because it was extremely upsetting.”
Tributes have been paid to Egging, who is said to have guided the plane away from houses and people before it crashed into a field and came to a standstill with its nose in the river Stour near the village of Throop.
His wife, Emma, said she had been “the proudest I’ve ever been” after watching the display over Bournemouth before the crash.
“Jon was everything to those that knew him, and he was the best friend and husband I could ever have wished for,” she said. “There was nothing bad about Jon. He loved his job and was an exemplary pilot. Watching him today, I was the proudest I’ve ever been. I loved everything about him, and he will be missed.”
Colleagues described the 33-year-old pilot as a “true team player” and “gifted aviator”. Group Captain Simon Blake, commandant of the RAF’s central flying school, said: “Throughout his winter training and the display season to date, his professionalism, skill and humility have shone through. In such a close-knit team, this tragedy will be keenly felt by his fellow team members, the Reds, and all of the engineering and support staff, the Blues.”
He told the BBC the MoD had grounded the Hawk team Mk 1 “temporarily until its safety can be assured”. “As for the rest of the season, it is too early to speculate as to when the Red Arrows will be back on the public circuit, but suffice to say in the short term they will not be able to perform in public.”
An MoD spokesman said: “A full service inquiry into the details of the crash has been initiated. It would be inappropriate to speculate on the causes of the incident at this time.”
One witness said the plane skidded for several hundred metres along the riverbank after it crashed. Mark Grogan said: “I heard a sound like a car backfiring. Within five minutes the helicopters arrived, there were at least five helicopters including the police and two from the coastguard.”
Nicholas Gore, 22, who was walking close to the river when he saw all nine Red Arrows overhead, said: “There were quite a few people watching and we saw them go over but one seemed quite low. They then disappeared behind trees and I heard a crack – not an explosion, just a crack – and we got further down and I saw the plane with its red tail in the air and its nose in the river.”
Wayne Kent, 30, the assistant manager at the nearby Broadway Pub, said some of his customers had seen the incident, and that the pilot guided the plane away from houses in the village and from people walking near the riverbank.