It took the German Armed Forces, the Bundeswehr, more than twelve hours to retrieve both fuel tanks that one of its Tornado fighters from the Jagel airbase in Schleswig-Holstein lost during exercises on 19 September. The incident occurred at 3.40 pm, when two Tornado jets were returning from a training session at an altitude of around 6,000 metres. Two 130-kilogram reserve tanks, which were empty when the incident happened, broke off one of the planes and crashed in a rural area, a spokesman for the German Air Force, cited by the local broadcaster NTV, explained. The police cordoned off the area, with military police and mountain troopers being alerted.
Ein #Tornado Jet des #TLG51 verlor heute am späten Nachmittag im Flug in einer Höhe von etwa 6 Kilometern zwei Zusatztanks. Die Tanks waren zu diesem Zeitpunkt leer. Einer wurde auf einem Feld bei Pansdorf in #SchleswigHolstein gefunden. Nach dem zweiten wird noch gesucht. pic.twitter.com/mAw20JORhp— Team_Luftwaffe (@Team_Luftwaffe) September 19, 2019
While one of the tanks was found on a dirt road near the A1 federal motorway on the same day, the other was discovered only this morning. Luckily, nobody was injured in the incident with the tanks, which are about 5.6 metres long and 74 centimetres wide, although the German Air Force, the Luftwaffe, warned witnesses against touching the tank, citing a risk of injury.
Why the jet lost the tanks in mid-flight is still unclear. According to the German military, the aircraft had been undergoing regular maintenance.
The German Armed Forces have long been searching for a suitable replacement for the aging jets, which entered service with the German Air Force in 1983, but still meet NATO's nuclear weapons obligations. The air force has stationed about 45 Tornado aircraft, designed to carry American nuclear bombs in the event of a crisis, at a key airbase in Buechel, while the country’s other aircraft are incapable of fulfilling such tasks.
Although Berlin has previously looked into buying Lockheed Martin's F-35 stealth combat aircraft, which is capable of performing both ground attacks and air missions, to replace the Tornados, it scrapped such plans earlier this year. Berlin reportedly decided to choose between the US-based Boeing’s F/A-18 jets or Eurofighters produced by the European giant Airbus.