Wed, Oct 22, 2014 - Page 1 News List

Air force pilot killed after planes collide

LAST HEROIC ACT:The air force said Lieutenant Colonel Chuang Pei-yuan ejected at too low an altitude to survive because he was steering his plane clear of residential areas

By Jason Pan  /  Staff reporter, with CNA

A soldier stands guard as a crane lifts the wreckage of an AT-3 air force jet trainer that crashed in Greater Kaohsiung’s Zihguan District yesterday.

Photo: Chang Chung-i, Taipei Times

The pilot of a 37-year-old AT-3 training aircraft belonging to the Air Force Academy died yesterday after his aircraft collided with another AT-3 and crashed during a routine training mission of the Thunder Tiger Aerobatics Team in Greater Kaohsiung, military officials said.

The pilot, Lieutenant Colonel Chuang Pei-yuan (莊倍源), tried to parachute to safety before the plane crashed in a field in Greater Kaohsiung’s Zihguan District (梓官), but he ejected from the plane at too low an altitude and his parachute never fully opened, the air force said.

Chuang sustained serious injuries after falling to the ground and was rushed to the Gangshan Branch of the Armed Forces Kaohsiung General Hospital, the Ministry of National Defense said.

Doctors at the hospital tried to revive the 37-year-old, but to no avail, it added.

The crash occurred at about 11:17am yesterday after Chuang’s jet collided with another AT-3 flown by Lieutenant Colonel Yang Chih-ping (楊志平), which was not badly damaged and landed safely at the Air Force Academy in Greater Kaohsiung.

In video clips obtained by the Chinese-langauge Liberty Times (the Taipei Times’ sister paper) and posted on its Web site shortly after noon yesterday, three AT-3s are seen flying in formation at high velocity and trailing white smoke.

Chuang’s AT-3 then accidentally clips another aircraft in a cross-over run. It first climbs higher, but begins to spin out of control and heads toward the ground at an incline.

Another video showed the two AT-3 planes make contact in mid-air, with the leading plane’s tail breaking off, then flying erratically before crashing.

The sounds of nearby bystander witnesses were also recorded, shouting: “There is a collision, the plane is going to crash,” “Oh, no, it’s going out of control” and “Get out quick, jump out with the parachute.”

Both Chuang and Yang are senior pilots who have clocked more than 2,000 flight hours, Air Force Academy superintendent Chang Yan-ting (張延廷) said at a news conference.

The two had been partners for about two years and participated in the formation of seven AT-3 jet trainers flown by the Thunder Tiger Aerobatics Team that streaked over the Presidential Office as part of Double Ten National Day celebrations on Oct. 10 this year, Chang said.

The Air Force Command Headquarters has set up a task force to probe the cause of the crash. There have been 12 crashes involving AT-3 training aircraft since 1990, resulting in the death of seven pilots.

An air force official said that Chuang missed the opportunity to eject from his aircraft at a higher altitude because he was trying to maneuver his aircraft clear of residential communities and crowds.

Chuang would have been able to save his life if he had bailed from the aircraft earlier, the official said, but he did not want to endanger the lives of others.

“This showed the pilot’s great virtue,” the official said.

Following the crash yesterday, legislators asked the Ministry of National Defense about plans to phase out the aging AT-3 aircraft, which have been in service for more than 25 years.

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