Xinhua News Agency

PLA pilots killed as warplane crashes

PUBLISHED : Monday, 20 July, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 20 July, 2009, 12:00am

Two People's Liberation Army pilots died when a fighter-bomber crashed at a military base in Jilin province yesterday morning during a joint anti-terrorism exercise with Russia, state and Russian media said.

The fighter-bomber, with a crew of two, was flying over a tactical training base in the city of Taonan when it crashed, according to Xinhua.

It was the first time a PLA aircraft had crashed during a joint drill and was reported by state media.

The Moscow-based Itar-Tass News Agency said that both airmen had died. 'A plane of the Chinese Air Force, flying to inflict a strike on a land target at an altitude of around 200 metres, lost speed, tilted to one side, land-crashed and exploded,' the agency quoted a reliable military source from Russia as saying.

'Both pilots, officers of the Chinese Air Force, died,' it said.

According to a preliminary appraisal, 'a blunder in piloting' was the cause of the disaster, it reported.

Xinhua said Chinese military authorities were still investigating the cause of the accident.

A duty officer with the Taonan city government said she was unclear about the situation. 'Such accidents have been defined as state secret, about which only leaders [in the municipal government] know,' the spokeswoman said.

Both Xinhua and Itar-Tass did not identify the type of the aircraft, but earlier reports said the PLA had sent more than 40 military planes from the Shenyang Military Command to take part in the joint exercise, including fighter-bombers, armed helicopters and transport planes, and Russia had sent 22 aircraft, including fighters and helicopters.

Military experts said they believed China had sent its JH-7 bomber, one of the PLA's new generation of military fighters, to be on display during the anti-terrorism drill.

'There are only two types of two-seat fighter bombers in the PLA - one is China's indigenous JH-7, and the other one is the Soviet made Su-30MKK,' said Andrei Chang, chief editor of the Canadian-based Kanwa Defence Review.

'But I think China would send a JH-7 to attend the joint drill because they had done it before.

A Shanghai-based military expert said he had believed the crashed plane was a JH-7.

'It should be our indigenous JH-7 bomber, because its double-engine system isn't very mature,' said the expert, who refused to be named. 'It almost caused several deaths during its test flights in the 1990s.'

The JH-7, also known as the FBC-1 Flying Leopard, is a twin-engine, swept-wing, supersonic two-seat, all-weather attack bomber. It was equipped with American GPS bombing and navigational systems and powered by licensed copies of the British Rolls-Royce Spey engine.

Xinhua did not say if the accident would affect the rest of the exercise.