A Royal Navy helicopter had to take evasive action to avoid two fighter jets in an unexpected near miss during a war games exercise over the Highland.
The incident happened about seven miles north-west of Ullapool during the Joint Warrior exercises on the morning of October 14 last year, but the details emerged for the first time yesterday.
A report, published yesterday by the UK Airprox Board, disclosed that the navy investigation had found that the incident had been caused by “a lack of situational awareness” by the command of the operation as to the position of both aircraft.
The pilot of the Sea King helicopter reported that he was flying at 500ft while returning to RAF Lossiemouth.
About seven miles off Ullapool the crew became aware of further traffic in their area and at this point an observer aboard the helicopter spotted aircraft heading towards them “at high speed” from the town.
The Airprox report said that “avoiding action” was taken with a turn to the left. The pilot spotted one of the Hawk jets about 200ft below and just over a mile away.
A second Hawk was then spotted 500ft above and only half a mile apart.
It is estimated that the Hawks passed “no closer” than 0.2 miles either side of the Sea King, with the helicopter pilot assessing the risk of collision as “medium”.
The Hawk pilot said he was leading two jets on a low level strike raid against targets in the Minch.
He had contacted the command controllers and was told there was no restrictions for their flight.
The jet was unable to contact controllers for the next 10 minutes because of the terrain.
The jets spotted the Sea King shortly after entering the area from Loch Broom and the two Hawks passed either side of the helicopter, with the lead pilot assessing the risk of collision as “low”.
The Royal Navy investigation concluded that the incident appeared to have occurred due to a lack of “situational awareness” between the various command controllers as to the position of both the Sea King and the Hawk flight.
The Airprox board found that the “pilots had been aware of and had seen each other at sufficient range that normal safety standards had been met”.