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Jet attempting loop at British air show crashes on roadway; 7 dead

Jet attempting loop at British air show crashes on roadway; 7 dead
A mobile phone image showing spectators at the Shoreham Air Show in southern England on Saturday after a fighter jet crashed. (Paul Jarrett / European Pressphoto Agency)

Seven people were killed Saturday when a military jet crashed into a busy main road after failing to complete a loop at a popular British air show.

The 1950s-era Hawker Hunter jet plummeted to the ground about 1:20 p.m., shocking onlookers and sending a massive fireball and plumes of thick black smoke shooting into the sky.

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Officials said the seven people were all declared dead at the scene. An additional 14 people were injured and one person with life-threatening injuries was also rushed to the hospital. It was not immediately known if the pilot was among the dead or injured.

The pilot "made a quick pass along the crowd line and pulled up into a loop," eyewitness Stephen Jones told the BBC.

"As he came out of it I thought: 'This is wrong, you're too low, you're not going to make this,' and he just disappeared behind some low trees at the edge of the airfield. And then there was a huge explosion as the plane exploded, fireballs straight up into the air. … People were just stunned."

The Hawker Hunter was the first plane to take to the sky after the lunchtime break on the first day of the two-day Shoreham air show, a 25-year-old family-friendly event that boasts flying displays, historic aircraft and classic cars.

The road was closed in both directions as hundreds of emergency vehicles rushed to the scene. An investigation was immediately launched and Prime Minister David Cameron issued a statement sending his condolences to the victims' families.

Amateur footage of the accident quickly circulated on the Internet that shows the fighter jet attempting the loop in clear blue skies. As the plane headed back toward the ground, the pilot failed to complete the 360-degree turn and the jet plowed straight into the ground.

The aircraft crashed about half a mile from Shoreham airport into trees along the side of the A27, a busy coastal route near the seaside resort of Brighton that was packed with cars.

"The plane just started to come down toward the motorway," said eyewitness Ailish Southall, who was driving along the road with her children in the back seat. "We assumed it was part of the performance and he just didn't seem to go back up. … He just crashed into the road."

"We swerved over to the left to avoid the debris and I just shouted to the kids to run," she told the BBC.

"We're very lucky and we're aware we're very lucky in comparison to some."

Boyle is a special correspondent.

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