AT-3 pilots found dead after crash

TAIPEI - Two pilots were found dead yesterday in the cockpit of an AT-3 training jet that went missing during a routine training flight over Central Taiwan on Tuesday.

Early yesterday, search and rescue personnel in an Army CH-47 helicopter found the aircraft's wrecked fuselage about 1.5 nautical miles northwest of its last known location, according to the Ministry of National Defence (MND).

Maj. Wang Ching-chun, 32, and 1st Lt. Huang Chun-jung, 23, were piloting the plane when it went down on Tuesday and were found dead in the front and back seat, respectively.

The MND said the pilots did not issue a distress call prior to disappearing off radar and that the aircraft's flight record showed no abnormalities.

"Army Special Forces soldiers found the bodies of the two pilots in the cockpit at around 12:50 p.m. (on Saturday)," Defence Ministry spokesperson Maj. Gen. David Lo said in Taipei.

He said rescuers were attempting to clear debris and send the bodies back to the Air Force Academy in Greater Kaohsiung's Gangshan District.

"Currently the search and rescue team is trying to overcome difficulties created by the steep mountainous terrain - we hope to be able to send the bodies down the mountain before the typhoon arrives," he said.

The MND said it would announce the cause of the crash following confirmation from an accident investigation team.

The R.O.C. Air Force Command Headquarters, which is handling the accident investigation, said that progress over the next few days depended on weather conditions.

Typhoon Dujuan on Saturday was centred 960 kilometers east-southeast of Hualien County and moving at a speed of 14 kilometers per hour in a northwesterly direction, according to the Central Weather Bureau.

The bureau warned that mountainous areas in Central Taiwan could see thunderstorms as Typhoon Dujuan nears.

In the meantime, all training involving AT-3s has been suspended pending the conclusion of the investigation.

There have been six accidents involving the locally developed aircraft model since 1994.

The last deadly accident involving the AT-3 occurred last October. Two AT-3 trainers collided during a routine aerobatic training mission of the Thunder Tiger Aerobatics Team in Greater Kaohsiung, resulting in one fatality.

The Air Force said yesterday that it would provide full assistance to the pilots' families with funeral arrangements and death pension collection.

Wang, who had 1,489 flight hours, was the oldest son of an airman and had been a flight instructor at the Air Force Academy.

Huang, who had 116 flight hours, was one of three children raised by a single mother in Yunlin County.