RAF crash investigators last night began removing the wreckage of the Harrier jet which crashed on a busy road near Tackley.

The £20m GR9 jet stunned drivers and residents on Thursday when it crashed on the A4260 Banbury to Oxford road, narrowly missing farm buildings and the Sturdy's Castle pub. The pilot ejected about three seconds before impact and escaped serious injury.

An 800m stretch of the A4260 between Bunkers Hill and the pub, together with side roads near the scene, could remain closed until tomorrow night or Wednesday morning until the wreckage has been fully recovered and the road made safe.

That was the warning from RAF spokesman, Squadron Leader Karl Mahon, who said the force's specialist aircraft recovery team, based at RAF St Athan in South Wales, began carefully recovering the wreckage last night.

He said they would pass their findings to the RAF's Board of Inquiry into the incident, and the Air Accident Investigation Branch's joint investigation.

Squadron Leader Mahon added: "The wreckage may provide a clue to the cause of the crash and it will be carefully lifted from the road surface, which may have been damaged.

"As part of the investigation, the maintenance history of the aircraft will be examined, together with the wreckage itself, and the wreckage site."

He said the jet's flight recorder, which may have recorded conversations between the pilot, Flight lieutenant Chris Pearson, and his base, had already been recovered.

"The flight recorder is well protected in the plane so that it survives on impact. It could also tell us what the plane was doing mechanically before the crash," he added.

He praised Flight Lieutenant Pearson for using his skills to avoid farm buildings and a pub, and heavily populated nearby villages.

The pilot has undergone medical tests and will be given counselling if he requests it, or if the RAF deems it necessary. It is not yet known when he will fly again.

Squadron Leader Mahon said the RAF's Board of Inquiry was convened on Friday and would produce a report on the incident as quickly as possible.

The Harrier was on its way to RAF Fairford in Gloucestershire, from RAF Cottesmore in Rutland, to take part in the weekend's Royal International Air Tattoo.

After the aircraft got into difficulty it crashed 150 yards from the pub, and the car of an off-duty police officer who was driving home from work on the road was struck by flying debris.

There has been speculation that the jet crashed after striking a flock of birds near Oxford Airport.

An air industry source said the birds were likely to have been sucked into the jet engine, causing it to fail.