2 killed as F-5F fighter crashes into East Sea

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2 killed as F-5F fighter crashes into East Sea

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The body of one of the two pilots killed in yesterday’s fighter jet crash is retrieved by the Air Force, Navy and Coast Guard. The military has formed a special investigation team to find out what caused the disaster. [YONHAP]

A South Korean F-5F fighter jet crashed into the East Sea yesterday morning during a regular training session, killing the two pilots.

The accident, just months after two fighter jets crashed into a mountain in March, came as the nation’s military faces growing questions about its competency and transparency in the wake of the sinking of the Cheonan warship on March 26.

According to South Korea’s Air Force, an F-5F fighter jet on its way back to base after a regular training session crashed into the sea about 1.8 kilometers (1.1 miles) off the east coast around 10:33 a.m. yesterday.

The bodies of the two pilots on board were found in the sea about two hours later. The military identified the men as Lieutenant Colonel Park Jeong-wu, 49, and First Lieutenant Jeong Seong-ung, 28.

Both Park and Jeong had parachute straps around their bodies and the chutes were partially open, indicating they were trying to perform an emergency ejection when they crashed.

It also suggests the accident may have been caused by a technical glitch rather than pilots’ “vertigo” - a state of visual confusion that can lead to a sudden crash that gives pilots little time to respond, the military said.

The skies were foggy around the crash site at the time the plane went down, but visibility remained at two kilometers, and weather may not have contributed to the accident.

“We are collecting the debris of the aircraft and its black box to obtain information about the communication details,” said an Air Force official who declined to be named.

The military yesterday formed a special task force to figure out what caused the crash, and sent members to the accident site.

The F-5F fighter jet, produced in Korea in 1983, is about 14.4 meters long and 8.13 meters wide. The aircraft that crashed yesterday has a flight history of some 9,000 hours.

Twelve of Korea’s F-5F fighters have crashed since 2000. In March, two F-5s on a training drill crashed into a mountain west of Gangneung, Gangwon, killing three pilots.

Most of the F-5F models currently used by the military are at least 20 years old, meaning the pilots need to be “more careful and more focused during the flight,” according to one Air Force official.

“The cockpit control system there was not as good as the later aircrafts’,” said the official.

The military is already facing growing public doubts about its competence, and it will be an added blow to its reputation if the latest crash turns out to have been caused by outdated machinery or sloppy maintenance.

A recent investigation by the Board of Audit and Inspection found that the military’s reaction on the night the Cheonan sank was shoddy, and the leadership tried to cover up its bungled crisis management. President Lee Myung-bak has promised a massive reform of the military and an upgrade of defense capabilities to ensure the nation’s security as public frustration snowballs.


By Jung Ha-won [hawon@joongang.co.kr]

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