Navy jet 'exploded in mid-air'

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 06 April, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 06 April, 2006, 12:00am

A villager who saw a military aircraft crash in northeast Hainan said yesterday the plane exploded in mid-air before wreckage rained down on a field of pepper trees.

Fu Tiecun - one of the few in the southern island province to have witnessed the crash - was working in his banana field when it happened. He said he saw one of three aircraft flying overhead suddenly catch fire. The plane hit the ground barely a dozen metres from where he was working.

'There were two explosions - one in mid-air and one on the ground. I felt a great impact and immediately took cover. Fortunately I was not hurt,' the farmer said. There were not many flames but a lot of smoke, he said.

Police arrived shortly afterwards and sealed off the area. They questioned Mr Fu and prevented him leaving Shancongcun village.

The PLA naval aircraft, apparently a two-seater fighter trainer, crashed at about 2pm on Tuesday near the village, outside the town of Nanyang, 20km south of Wenchang .

The crash created a 3-square-metre crater but did not cause any civilian casualties, villagers said. Police said the two pilots were killed. Mr Fu said he saw soldiers digging a man's body out of the wreckage afterwards.

Another villager said scores of soldiers arrived to pick up the remains of the bodies and the plane.

'I saw them digging out a man's body. But [it was only] the [torso],' the man said. Many villagers found aircraft parts near their homes.

Hainan authorities sealed off areas within a 1km radius of Shancongcun. A senior naval officer visited the site early yesterday and several experts from the Ministry of Defence also inspected it.

A local police officer said the area would remain closed for some time because 'some explosives' were missing and the authorities feared a threat to the public.

Villagers said they often saw naval aircraft flying over their village.

'Most of the time they fly in pairs. We are not worried and we have become quite accustomed to this,' one villager said.

The Hainan government has imposed a news blackout about the accident. Most people in Wenchang said they were not aware of the crash.