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An expert witness in the trial of a Royal Air Force air traffic controller charged with contributing to the crash of two American fighter jets said communication between British controllers and American pilots is sometimes complicated by the language.

Flight Lt. Jacqueline Trangman told the court-martial Wednesday that the two groups were separated “by a common language.”

Flight Lt. Malcolm Williams is accused of causing the deaths of Lt. Col. Kenneth Hyvonen and Capt Kirk Jones of the 48th Fighter Wing at RAF Lakenheath, England. Their F-15Cs crashed into a mountain in Scotland on March 26, 2001, while Williams was on duty and talking to them.

He is accused of telling the pilots to descend to 4,000 feet when the safe minimum altitude was 6,500 feet. The planes crashed at about 4,000 feet in the Cairngorm Mountains.

Trangmar told the court-martial being held at a Royal Navy base near Glasgow that communicating with American pilots was “sometimes like pulling teeth,” according to a report in The Scotsman daily newspaper.

She was asked by the prosecutor, Group Capt. Alastair McGrigor, what she would do if she did not understand a pilot. She said she would try to clarify his statement.

“I say the word ‘try’ because at times it’s like pulling teeth. You may not get the reply you are expecting or want, and depending on how busy you are, it can be very difficult,” she testified.

According to trial testimony, Hyvonen used the phrase “minimum vectoring altitude,” which refers to a safe altitude to avoid terrain. The phrase has been much discussed at the trial, and Trangmar said she would not have understood what it meant had she heard it in March 2001.

The trial is expected to continue into next week.


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