LONDON A pilot with the British military's elite Red Arrows aerobatic display team died Saturday when his jet crashed and broke into pieces after taking part in an air show in southern England, the defense ministry said.
The nine-plane stunt team had finished a display over the seafront in Bournemouth, 100 miles south of London, and was returning to the airport when one of the jets crashed.
The defense ministry said the plane came down in fields about a mile from Bournemouth Airport just before 2 p.m. (1300GMT).
Chief Inspector Steve White of Dorset Police said the aircraft had come to a rest on the banks of the River Stour. "The pilot, who had been thrown from the aircraft, was pronounced dead at the scene," he said.
The Ministry of Defense identified the pilot as 33-year-old Flight Lt. John Egging. Egging joined the air force in 2000 and had served in Afghanistan.
He joined the Red Arrows in the fall of 2010 and was in his first season performing with the team.
Egging is the first Red Arrows pilot to die since 1978, when two were killed in a training accident.
Amateur footage showed one of the jets arcing toward the ground as it flew low over farmland.
Local resident Shaun Spencer-Perkins said the plane came down in fields, near a river.
"I heard a rushing sound and I saw a plane about 15 meters (50 feet) above the ground racing across the fields," he told the BBC. He said that the jet "hit the ground, exploded into pieces," and two members of the public jumped into the river to search for the pilot.
A military air accident team is investigating the cause of the crash.
The Bournemouth Air Festival, which runs until Sunday, said events were continuing as scheduled.
The Red Arrows are famous for their airborne stunts, red, white and blue vapor trails, dramatic flypasts and trademark diamond formation. Formed in 1965, they have flown more than 4,000 displays in 53 countries. Their red single-engine jet trainers are a familiar sight at air shows and military events.
The pilots are drawn from front-line RAF squadrons, and return to active duty after three years with the Arrows. In 2009, Flight Lt. Kirsty Moore became the first female member of the team.
The nine-pilot team last had an accident in March 2010, when two jets crashed in training in Crete. Neither pilot was seriously injured in that incident.
Other flight demonstration teams, including the United States Air Force's Thunderbirds and the U.S. Navy's Blue Angels, have had deaths in training and during displays, although they are relatively rare.
In 2007, Blue Angels pilot Lt. Cmdr. Kevin Davis died at an air show in South Carolina when he briefly lost control of his F/A 18 Hornet jet.
Canada's Snowbirds have had several fatal accidents, most recently a training crash in 2007 that killed a pilot.