The Nationwide Children's Day celebration yesterday was marred by tragedy after a fighter jet plunged from the sky during a military air show in Songkhla province, killing the pilot.
The accident happened at Wing 56 of Hat Yai airport in the southern province before hundreds of spectators, including many children, who watched a show organised by the Air Force as part of Children's Day activities.
The pilot of the Swedish-made JAS 39 Gripen jet was identified as Squadron Leader Dilokrit Pattawi, 34, from Wing 7 based in nearby Surat Thani province.
Footage of the tragedy captured shrieks from the startled crowd as the jet nosedived and crashed near the airport's runway, bursting into flames and releasing a fiery plume of smoke.
No one else was hurt in the incident, according to an airport official, as the spectators were gathered a considerable distance away from the crash site.
Military officers sealed off the area of crash following the incident, and the media were not allowed in.
The Gripen fighter jet that crashed was part of a 12-plane squadron stationed at Wing 7.
It |had been used in a separate air |show in Pattani province earlier in the day.
Air Force commander-in-chief ACM Johm Rungswang ordered an investigation into the accident, according to Air Force spokesman AVM Pongsak Semachai.
"The responsible units have been sent to the scene of the accident to investigate and determine the cause," the spokesman said, adding that the Air Force chief expressed his sorrow over the pilot's death.
He also said that the flight manoeuvre performed by the pilot was not aerobatic in nature or |risky.
The pilot's body will be moved to Bhumibol Hospital in Bangkok and a bathing rite is scheduled for tomorrow, according to the spokesman.
Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha and Defence Minister Prawit Wongsuwan offered their sympathy to the airman's family.
"The prime minister has expressed his condolences to the pilot, his family and the Royal Thai Air Force," Maj-General Werachon Sukondhapatipak, spokesman for the National Council for Peace and Order, said.
Prawit, who is also a deputy prime minister, expressed his "heartfelt sorrow" to the pilot's family, according to Defence Ministry spokesman Maj-General Kongcheep Tantrawanit.
The defence minister has instructed the Air Force chief to take good care of the bereaved relatives and to investigate the cause of the accident, the spokesman said.
Prawit instructed the commanders of military and police units providing armament displays for the public to step up safety measures, according to the spokesman.
The Air Force, via its Facebook fan page, asked members of the public to refrain from sharing video clips of the crash out of respect for the pilot's family and other people involved.