Human error appears to have been the cause of the mid-air collision between two air force AT-3 trainer planes that caused one of them to crash on Friday, the head of the Air Force Academy said yesterday.
“The cause of the collision has yet to be determined by our investigation,” Taiwanese Air Force Academy president Ke Wen-an (柯文安) said.
The two training aircraft took off from Gangshan Air Force Base at 3:37pm on Friday for formation training and collided 33 minutes later, Ke said.
Following the collision, the No. 0816 trainer returned to the air base safely, while the two pilots of the No. 0809 trainer were able to parachute to safety before it crashed into a mountainside. They were found by a passing farmer who helped them to hospital.
“The two pilots did not sustain any life-threatening injuries,” Ke said.
Fanliao Hospital said Lieutenant Colonel Chang Kuo-chiang (張國強) was bleeding from the neck and chest and had a wrist fracture, while First Lieutenant Tseng Kuo-wei (曾國維) was had bruises and a mild concussion.
First Lieutenant Tseng, 26, who was in the front seat, had 426 flying hours, while Lieutenant Colonel Chang, 37, in the rear seat, had 2,230 flying hours.
The planes were flying at an altitude of about 5,000m and a speed of about 500kph, with the No. 0816 trainer in the lead and the other plane one meter behind when the collision occurred, Ke said.
The left horizontal tail of the leading trainer was ripped off in the collision, but it managed to return safely to base.
“The military has ruled out the possibility of weather as a factor and believes that pilot error could have caused the mishap,” Ke said, adding that the planes did not maintain a safe distance.
He pledged to conduct a thorough review of the collision and determine the cause as soon as possible. The wreckage of the crashed plane was located in a mountainous area in Pingtung County in southern Taiwan and retrieved yesterday.
The Air Force has grounded all of its AT-3 trainer planes for inspection following the mid-air collision.
An air force investigative team went to the mountainous region of Chunrih Village (春日) in Pingtung County yesterday to inspect the site at which the trainer went down.
The investigators said the debris was spread over a wide area. The body of the plane was smashed and the ground was scorched where it fell, the investigators said, adding that the engine was found 100m away.