Two F-5 jets crash in drill, 3 pilots presumed dead
Body parts that were presumed to belong to the dead pilots were found near Daegwallyeong in Gangwon’s Pyeongchang County.
“In the middle of a search and rescue mission, investigators collected some body parts, clothes and boots,” said a defense official who requested anonymity. “We are assuming that all the pilots died from the accident. It will take some time to confirm the identity of the dead pilots since bodies are damaged in jet crashes.”
The official said that the jets were a one-seat F-5E and a two-seat F-5F. Capt. Euh Min-hyuk controlled the F-5E and First Lt. Choi Bo-ram and Lt. Col. Oh Chung-hyun flew the F-5F, the official said. “We have not yet confirmed the exact cause of the accident but there is a high possibility that an aircraft crashed into Mount Hwangbyeong near Daegwallyeong in Pyeongchang due to poor visibility from a heavy snowstorm,” said the official. “We are going to further investigate the cause of the crash.”
But there is another possibility, according to the official. The F-5F might have lost sight of the F-5E due to weather conditions. After that, the F-5F increased its speed to catch up with the F-5E and may have collided with it, the official said.
The aircraft had taken off from Gangneung Air Base at 12:20 p.m. to conduct maneuvers and disappeared from the radar five minutes later, said the official. Upon losing contact, the Air Force sent two HH-60 rescue helicopters to search for the missing pilots and planes, according to the official. Some mountain climbers reported to local fire stations that they found the wreckage of military jets near the top of Mount Hwangbyeong. Before the discovery, they heard the sound of falling planes and smelled burning fuel at around 12:33 p.m.
The Air Force dispatched its vice chief, Lt. Gen. Kim Yong-hong, to command a fact-finding team and sent 10 Air Force investigators to the scene.
It ordered all air bases across the country to suspend flying F-5 aircraft until the investigation is completed.
The 14.45-meter-long (47.7-foot-long) F-5E and F-5F fighter jets were first manufactured in 1975 and 1984, respectively, in the United States. Those aircraft have been imported to Korea since the 1980s. The jets are 4.07 meters tall and 8.13 meters wide. They weigh 4,410 kilograms (9,723 pounds). Another Air Force officer said the life expectancy of fighter jets is no longer than 30 years. The Korean Air Force currently operates some 180 F-5 fighter jets.
Two Korean pilots died in 2004 after two F-5E jets crashed in the Yellow Sea, and another four servicemen died the following year as F-5F and F-4E jets crashed into the same sea during separate drills. In November 2008, two F-5E fighter jets collided near Pocheon, Gyeonggi, just 46 kilometers northeast of Seoul. One managed to return to its base but the other one crashed into the ground. The pilot from that jet was able to parachute to safety.
By Lee Min-yong [email@example.com]