TWO American airmen were hailed as heroes for preventing their stricken swing-wing fighter-bomber from crashing into village houses seconds before they smashed into a hillside.

Pilot Captain Jerry Lindh, 28, and navigator/weapons systems officer Major David “Mike” McGuire, 37, died when their escape pod ejected but was tangled up in fencing and also crashed.

Their self-sacrifice in staying with the disabled aircraft saved lives and houses in Upper Heyford and North Aston, near Bicester.

Now 20 years after the fatal accident villagers are remembering the airmen’s bravery with an Act of Commemoration on Sunday.

The accident happened on September 17, 1992, when the F-111 jet was returning form a routine training flight to the USAF base at Upper Heyford. There were no weapons on board.

The crew realised there were problems with the aircraft as they approached the airbase over North Aston.

The aircraft hit runway lights on poles in a field then scraped over the Somerton road just yards from the last houses in Upper Heyford.

It crashed through the base perimeter fence and broke up just below the brow of the hill and the runway.

The initiative for the service in the cemetery next to St Mary's parish church at Upper Heyford came from parish councillors who felt it was an appropriate time to mark the 20th anniversary of the tragic incident.

Among those attending will be Kathy McGuire, widow of Major McGuire, and there will be representatives from the village and an Honour Guard from the USAF comunications base at RAF Croughton, near Brackley.

Brigadier General John Quintas, air attache at the American embassy in London, will give an address. By coincidence he was a pilot at Upper Heyford at the time of the crash and knew Capt Lindh.

Members of Marlborough Road Methodist Church in Banbury, where Capt Lindh worshiped, will also be present.

Lieutenant General Bob Menzies, chairman of Upper Heyford Parish Council, said: “Both airmen realised there was a total hydraulic failure in their aircraft.

“They were experienced airmen and knew they could not fly it into a remote location.

“Although they were told by their control to eject they refused, knowing that the aircraft could crash with catastrophic loss of life and property in Upper Heyford or North Aston.

“Their decision was an extraordinary act of bravery and self-sacrifice.”

Shortly before the crash, pupils from Bicester Community College were dropped outside the Barley Mow pub 300 yards away.

Pub landlord Derek Howling said afterwards: “I was standing in the bar when I heard a thud.

“The pub shook and I looked out and saw the aircraft skating across the road in two separate parts. It went through the fence and on to the base and burst into flames."

Later the parents of Capt Lindh issued a statement to thank everyone for their support.

His father, Leonard, said the cards, messages and prayers had been a comfort to the family. He was sure Major McGuire’s family wanted to express similar thanks.

After the service on Sunday, an exhibition will be open at the village Reading Room with displays marking the links between the base and the village. The material is being supplied by the village local history society and the heritage group at the former base, which closed in 1993.