Pilot dies in World War II-era Spitfire fighter crash in England

by Vern Evans

LONDON—A World War II-era Spitfire fighter plane crashed near a British air force base in eastern England on Saturday, killing the pilot, the U.K. defense ministry said.

The ministry confirmed the death of a Royal Air Force pilot “in a tragic accident” near RAF Coningsby, an air base. There was no immediate word on the cause of the crash.

“It is with great sorrow that I must confirm the death of Squadron Leader Mark Long,” Group Captain Robbie Lees, commander of the display air wing, said in a statement Sunday. “Mark was a Typhoon pilot here at RAF Coningsby, and for the last four years, he has been a pilot with the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight.”

“A great friend, colleague, and a passionate, professional aviator, he will be sorely missed by all that knew him,” Lees wrote.

The base about 150 miles (230 kilometers) north of London is home both to modern fighter jets and to the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight, a collection of wartime fighter and bomber aircraft that take part in air shows and memorial displays.

The BBC reported Monday that the Royal Air Force has temporarily grounded the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight as an investigation into the mishap gets underway.

Several of the Memorial Flight planes had been due to perform a flying display Saturday at the nearby Lincolnshire Aviation Heritage Center.

Lincolnshire Police said emergency services were called Saturday afternoon to reports that an aircraft had crashed in a field in Coningsby. The force said “it is believed to be a single occupant aircraft and nobody else is thought to have been involved.”

The crash happened days before wartime aircraft will take to the skies to commemorate the 80th anniversary of D-Day, the June 6, 1944 Allied invasion of Normandy.

More than 20,000 Spitfires were built in the 1930s and 40s and the deft, maneuverable plane played a key role in defending the U.K. from attacks by Germany’s Luftwaffe during the Battle of Britain in 1940. Prime Minister Winston Churchill famously paid tribute to the Battle of Britain airmen with the words: “Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.”

Only a few dozen airworthy Spitfires remain, including six that belong to the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight.

Air Force Times Editor Rachel Cohen contributed to this story.

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