China’s military on Monday confirmed two pilots had died in a military plane crash over the weekend – but only after pictures and a video appeared on the internet.
The People's Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) said a Sukhoi Su-27 fighter plane crashed on mudflats in Rongcheng city, Shandong province, during a drill, on Sunday afternoon, according to Xinhua.
Photographs and a video clip of the crash site were uploaded onto microblogging platform Sina Weibo on Sunday afternoon and quickly went viral.
One photograph showed the wreckage of the aircraft engulfed in flames and black smoke, while another showed fishermen trying to approach the crash site.
In a video clip circulated online, an onlooker said the plane "floated" in the air for a while before it crashed to the ground and caught fire.
According to Xinhua, the two pilots died in the accident. There were no reported casualties or damage to property among local residents.
The pilots had ejected from the plane before the crash but it was not known why they died, the Global Times reported.
The cause of the crash also remains unknown.
The twin-engine, Russian-made, Soviet-era fighter aircraft was introduced to China's military in the 1990s. The PLAAF now has about 300 Su-27s in different versions.
The Su-27 fighters have given the Chinese air force "strong capabilities in both long-range air combat and dog-fights", the Global Times quoted a military expert as saying.
The last known crash  of the same type of aircraft in China took place in early 2009 when a Su-27 crashed into a mountain in Chongqing after reportedly experiencing “a series of explosions”, according to a BBC report.
In 2002, a Ukrainian Su-27 fighter lost control during an aerial acrobatics show and crashed into an audience stand, killing 83.