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European edition, Sunday, April 29, 2007

RAF MILDENHALL, England — Two women left widows by a pair of 2001 fighter jet crashes in Scotland have received a combined total of about $300,000 to partially settle their claims against the military.

The British Ministry of Defence and U.S. Air Force last year paid the widows of Lt. Col. Kenneth Hyvonen and Capt. Kirk Jones a combined 150,000 pounds, according to Air Force and MOD.

Jones and Hyvonen were killed in a training accident when confusion between the pilots and an RAF air traffic controller about a minimum safe flying altitude led to their deaths on March 26, 2001.

The payments were revealed in the Ministry of Defence’s annual claims report, in which it publishes numbers of claims made mainly against the U.S. Air Force — called the “visiting forces” — in England and total amounts paid in settlements.

The 150,000 pounds for Hyvonen’s and Jones’ widows were listed as “interim payments,” for ongoing claims in the category of “low flying” incidents, according to the report.

An interim payment is a disbursement paid on a claim before the final total amount has been decided by the MOD, said Hannah Rutterford an associate solicitor for the firm Kester Cunningham John, who handles cases brought against the military.

Interim payments can be made “whenever you know someone’s going to get compensated but you don’t know how much yet,” she said.

“It’s basically just a sum of money to tide [a claimant] over,” she said.

Interim claims can be made for almost any amount under the projected ceiling of the final compensation, she said, but they are normally given for small percentages of that estimated total award.

Arriving at the amount of the total compensation has taken years because of the complexity of the case, said Maj. John Haynes, spokesman for the 3rd Air Force at RAF Mildenhall.

Before any claim on the crashes could be filed, a lengthy court-martial of the British air traffic controller and internal investigations by the MOD and Air Force had to be concluded, Haynes said, a process that took several years.

Claims for damages against the Air Force for everything from property damage to traffic accidents caused by airmen in England are first filed with the 3rd Air Force legal office. Lawyers there review the claims, then submit a recommendation to the MOD on whether and how much money to award a claimant, Haynes said.

The MOD makes an independent decision on how much to award and disburses the money, then later collects 75 percent of the money from the Air Force. For a 150,000 pound payout, that would be about a $225,000/$75,000 split between the Air Force and the MOD.

Both Haynes and spokesmen for the MOD, however, said they could not discuss the details of the Jones and Hyvonen case because the MOD’s evaluation is ongoing.

The two pilots were killed during a low altitude training mission when they called for a “minimum vectoring altitude” from an RAF air traffic controller, according to Air Force and MOD reports. Confusion over the request led the controller to issue descent instructions that, when followed by the two pilots, led them below the ridgeline of the mountains.

Both pilots were flying F15-C aircraft from RAF Lakenheath.

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