Crash jet 'was early warning aircraft'

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 06 June, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 06 June, 2006, 12:00am

Plane lost in disaster that killed 40 was Chinese version of Russian craft: report

The military transport plane that crashed in Anhui province on Saturday was one of China's few early warning aircraft, mainland-backed newspapers said yesterday.

The Hong Kong-based Ta Kung Pao said the plane slammed into a hill, killing all 40 people on board, after it tried to avoid plunging into homes in Guangde county.

Both Ta Kung Pao and Wen Wei Po said there were 35 avionic experts on board in addition to five flight crew. Mainland media reports suggested that bad weather was the key reason behind the crash.

The two newspapers did not identify the model of the plane, but Ta Kung Pao carried an extensive report about the KJ-2000 model - a Chinese version of a Russian early-warning plane.

Earlier media reports said China had built four KJ-2000 jets and they were based at an air force base in Wuxi , Jiangsu province .

Describing the crash in Anhui's Baidian township as the 'worst air disaster in China's air force history', Ta Kung Pao said senior officers from the air force, the Nanjing Military Region and Central Military Commission vice-chairman General Guo Boxiong had arrived in Anhui to supervise the investigation into the crash and handle its aftermath.

Xinhua reported late on Sunday night that President Hu Jintao had issued a condolence telegram mourning the death of the 40 people on the flight, saying their 'heroic names and deeds will forever be remembered by the state and the people'.

In the telegram, Mr Hu also said they had died while performing their duty and they 'had made a valuable contribution to the modernisation of the military'.

China spent more than a decade trying to acquire early warning aircraft from overseas, first from Russia and later from Israel. However, its efforts at improving its early warning capabilities were hurt when US pressure forced Israel to abandon sales six years ago.

After its efforts to import early warning technology stumbled, Beijing accelerated its domestic programmes and it was reported that four mainland-developed early warning aircraft finally hit the runway last year.

Andrei Chang, a Hong Kong-based specialist in Chinese military affairs, said the crash showed China's air force lacked wartime experience.

Mr Chang said the fact that Mr Hu had had such high praise for the victims and his quick despatch of General Guo to Anhui indicated that the crashed plane must have been on a special mission and suggested the aircraft was a modified Yun-8 transport airplane.

He said it was not proper military practice for a transport airplane to carry as many as 40 people and countries such as Russia and Egypt all had 'painful experience' of past accidents.