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WESTON HILLS JET CRASH ANNIVERSARY: After five years, pilot gives first interview

The pilot whose military jet plane crashed into a Weston Hills field five years ago today says: “I thank God daily the aircraft landed where it did.”

In his first interview since the USAF F15-D jet based at RAF Lakenheath came down off Broadgate - just a few hundred yards from a primary school and homes - Major Matt Tanis said: “I remember being very angry and scared that I had dropped my aircraft on the town.”

The crash, which occurred during a training fight exercise, shocked South Holland and far beyond but remarkably no one was injured. An investigation found that the cause was two-fold - the angle of attack of the aircraft and imperfections in the radome’s nose cap assembly.

Matt and Katie Tanis (18483978)
Matt and Katie Tanis (18483978)

A report said Major Tanis, the only person on board, performed an “aft-stick pull” which put the plane into “wing rock”, a condition indicating a stall. It said this was “an inappropriate response to conditions and over controlled the aircraft”. The defect in the F-15D’s nose generated enough force on the plane to put it into a spin which reached 111 degrees of turn per second.

Major Tanis, who had flown that model about 50 times, said: “I remember everything about that last manoeuvre in very good detail. The fight was the third and final (obviously) fight of the day. It was a 3,000ft defensive Basic Fighter Manoeuvring (BFM) set up. I began in front of the offender who was 3000ft behind me and we began manoeuvring. After a few seconds of manoeuvring, the momentum of the aircraft began an accelerated flat-erect spin.”

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After almost 40 seconds of spinning and Major Tanis trying to recover the aircraft while his flight lead was calling out his altitude every 1,000 feet of descent, it was clear the anti-spin controls were having no effect and he would have to eject at around 6,000ft. He said the timeframe felt more like about ten seconds.

“Immediately after ejecting, my parachute was twisted and forced my face to look down. I saw my mighty Eagle-jet spinning beneath my feet, and silhouetted behind the aircraft were a few houses. That was the worst moment of the entire event, and for the next five to ten minutes I was scared to death I had just dropped an aircraft on top of someone.”

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He added: “This may seem dramatic, but October 8, 2014 was an extremely defining day for me and my family. My wife Katie and I decided we better get a move on and have some kids, and a little over a year later we had our daughter Jules Elise. Five years later, Katie is now eight months pregnant with baby girl number two.”

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Major Tanis – now an instructor at the USAF Weapons School in Las Vegas - received around 100 well-wishing cards from pupils and teachers at the school, with some of his favourites on a wall at his Nevada home. The couple have even mentioned moving to the Weston Hills area so that Jules could attend the school.

Major Mat Tanis answers our questions

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