Plane Spotter Saves Pilot’s Life After Noticing Jet Malfunction

A plane spotter managed to prevent disaster and saved a pilot’s life after noticing a jet malfunction and alerting a nearby airbase. Let’s take a more detailed look at what happened.

Plane spotter turned hero

F-15E Strike Eagle
Simpson alerted the base when he noticed sparks coming from the jet | © Ian Simpson

Earlier this month, regular plane watcher and photographer Ian Simpson was doing a bit of plane spotting when he realised something wasn’t quite right. Simpson acted fast and called RAF Lakenheath in Suffolk, after noticing flames and sparks come out from the F-15E Strike Eagle after take off.

Simpson, who previously worked designing aircraft traffic control procedures for Boeing, listened to the radio communications between the pilot, Maj. Grant Thompson, and the base, to see what action would be taken. However, it seemed nobody else had noticed. Simpson realised the potential danger the pilot was in when he heard the aircraft was set to refuel over the North Sea as the pilot remained unaware of the problem with the jet.

Disaster avoided

Thanks to Simpson’s quick thinking and his knowledge within the aviation industry, the switchboard operator was able to relay the message to the pilot. The pilot was then able to ask his wingman to check the engine for damage, where it was confirmed that there was indeed damage to the nozzle on the right motor of the F15-E Strike Eagle. After identifying the problem, the pilot was able to return safely to the base.

Ian Simpson and Maj. Thompson
Simpson received the pilot’s fighter wing patch as a huge thank you | © RAF Lakenheath

The following week, the pair met, where the pilot, Thomson sang Simpson’s praises. Thompson thanked Simpson for his intervention, giving him a legacy cap and the fighter wing patch he was wearing that day, removed from the sleeve of his jumpsuit. When speaking on Simpson’s actions, the pilot reported they had “100% saved [his] life.”

Incidents like these happen now and again, with an engine catching fire in Hong Kong to be the latest episode. Thankfully, in both instances, nobody was seriously injured.

What do you think of Simpson’s actions? Share your thoughts with us!

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