Eagle-eyed plane spotter saves pilot's life

Ian Simpson saw US Air Force pilot Grant Thompson's F-15E Strike Eagle with sparks flying out. 

Ian Simpson saw US Air Force pilot Grant Thompson's F-15E Strike Eagle with sparks flying out. - Credit: Ian Simpson

A pilot at RAF Lakenheath has thanked a Suffolk man for saving his life after sparks blasted out of his plane. 

Plane spotter Ian Simpson was watching US major Grant Thompson flying a F-15E Strike Eagle over the airbase and became concerned about the afterburn on Tuesday, July 13.

Mr Simpson, who often goes to Suffolk airbases to watch planes, noticed something wasn't right.

He realised the sparks were "coming out of a different part of the engine than normally".

He then saw that the plane was not turning back to the US Air Force Base and realised he needed to raise the alarm.

The plane spotter searched for a number for RAF Lakenheath, who put him through to control. 

They then raised the alarm with the pilot, Mr Thompson, who turned around and rapidly headed back to base.

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Mr Simpson said he's had "the most humbling thanks praise" from the US since Mr Thompson thanked him publicly on Tuesday, July 20. 

"I did what I thought was right," the 56-year-old said. "It could have been quite bad. The pilot was dead cool about it. 

"It was nice to get appreciation and thanks."

Mr Simpson formerly worked for Boeing, which designs airspace, and thinks this and growing up near Mildenhall and Lakenheath helped him appreciate the danger the pilot may be in.

"I've always had an interest in planes," he said. "It was nice to have thanks [from Mr Thompon's] friends and family as well."

RAF Lakenheath also took to social media to show their appreciation and gave Mr Simpson a hat and insignia for his efforts. 

The Facebook video has had over 112,000 views with people from the US reacting to the news. 

"Its been a little crazy since then with lots of people getting in touch," Mr Simpson added. "I just don't think I'm a hero."

RAF Lakenheath still does not know why there were flames spewing out of Major Thompson's plane.