From floods to fuel
Only days remain before 2007 is etched into history.
It was an eventful year for airmen in the United Kingdom: Jet fighters scorched the skies of Afghanistan while scores of people lamented the closure of a unique high school.
Groundings, floods, spills, contamination, a convicted rapist and an untimely death also shaped the year.
Here are the top 10 stories in the United Kingdom during the past 12 months, according to Stars and Stripes’ U.K. bureau staff.
Friendly-fire deaths in Afghanistan: The 492nd Fighter Squadron was in the midst of a historic and largely successful deployment to Bagram Airfield when tragedy struck: A 500-pound bomb dropped from an RAF Lakenheath-based F-15 jet fighter hit a column of British soldiers on Aug. 23.
Three troops from the Suffolk-based 1st Battalion, Royal Anglian Regiment died in the incident, which is still under investigation.
F-15s grounded, again and again: After a Missouri Air National Guard F-15 came apart in flight on Nov. 2, a probe uncovered potentially catastrophic structural failings.
The investigation led to three separate groundings, the latest of which is still in effect for older-model F-15s. Scores of the jet fighters have been affected at RAF Lakenheath.
First RAF Lakenheath airman killed in Iraq: Airman 1st Class Jason D. Nathan of the 48th Security Forces Squadron perished June 23 when his vehicle was struck by a roadside bomb in Iraq.
Hundreds gathered on base to honor the 22-year-old Macon, Ga., native who had gone to Iraq in place of an ill comrade.
London Central closes: With declining student numbers and a reduction of the U.S. military presence in the London area, it was all but inevitable that London Central High School, the only dormitory-based high school in the military’s global school system, would shutter as well.
The move forced dozens of American students into British schools, led to reassignments of Department of Defense Dependents Schools teachers and closed a unique chapter in the history of DODDS in the United Kingdom. Bobcats worldwide mourned.
RAF Lakenheath airman convicted of two rapes: Airman Basic Renato Sanchez del Carpio raped two 48th Fighter Wing airmen in the span of 12 months, and didn’t spent a day in jail until a military jury convicted him of both rapes late this year.
Now he has 18 years behind bars to reflect on his tour in England.
Special Operations Squadron departs England: The 21st Special Operations Squadron left an incredible legacy in England when it inactivated. The squadron and its Vietnam-era fleet of MH-53M Pave Low helicopters participated in rescue operations that stretched from Africa in the 1990s to war-torn Lebanon last summer.
The unit also was instrumental in the early phase of the invasion of Afghanistan. The Pave Low is being replaced by the CV-22 Osprey, a controversial aircraft capable of vertical lift and fixed-wing flight.
Where are the Afghan stowaways?: RAF Lakenheath security officials captured eight Afghan youths stowed away in the rear compartment of a commissary-bound bread truck on March 8 and quickly handed them to the British government, which since has refused to release any information on the status or whereabouts of the Afghans.
The Home Office last month declined a Stars and Stripes Freedom of Information Act request for info on the Afghans, citing privacy protection.
Dodgy petrol stalls motorists across England: Thousands of drivers across the east of England — including roughly 75 American military personnel who filled up at polluted pumps on RAFs Lakenheath, Mildenhall and Alconbury — were struck by the so-called “dodgy petrol.”
The Army and Air Force Exchange Service negotiated a prompt settlement with the British energy firm that supplied the tainted fuel, and the affected motorists were soon back on the left side of the road.
Epic flooding hits RAF Fairford: Torrential rains soaked much of Great Britain this summer, including RAF Fairford in western England. The floods caused approximately $200,000 in damage.
Few carpets survived, but the rains did net the Air Force some positive publicity. The mayor of the Gloucestershire hamlet praised airmen who built a makeshift dam to divert the raging River Coln away from the town center.
Fuel spill contaminates groundwater beneath RAF Mildenhall: Up to 50,000 gallons of jet fuel was lost in a spill that ended up polluting groundwater beneath RAF Mildenhall on April 20.
British contractors have been charged with causing the pollution.