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A breakdown in communication between U.S. pilots and a Royal Air Force air traffic controller over the minimum safe flying altitude was the root cause of an accident that killed two RAF Lakenheath-based pilots in 2001, a new RAF report reads.

The report was released Monday by the British Ministry of Defence almost five years after the simultaneous crashes of two American F15-C fighter jets in the mountains of Scotland. The U.S. Air Force released its own report in 2003.

“The accident occurred because the formation accepted a potentially unsafe [air traffic control] instruction and descended without sufficient references to avoid hitting the ground,” the report’s summary of the causes reads.

In March 2001, pilots Lt. Col. Kenneth Hyvonen and Capt. Kirk Jones were over the Cairngorm mountain range on a low-altitude training flight when they contacted the RAF Leuchars tower for descent information.

The pilots asked for the “minimum vectoring altitude,” a term not in general use by the Royal Air Force at the time, the report reads. The controller either did not understand the request or was distracted at the time it came in, but issued descent parameters anyway, according to the report.

Acting on those instructions, the two jets descended to just below 4,000 feet, where they hit the top of a snow-covered mountain, killing both men.

The U.S. Air Force’s report made similar findings.

The RAF’s report has been held up because of courts-martial in which the RAF controller in contact with the jets just before the crash was eventually acquitted of negligence charges.

The full report can be viewed at the Ministry of Defence’s Web site, www.mod.uk/defenceinternet/home, by going first to the “A-Z Index” on its home page, and then the “Board of Inquiry reports” section.

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