March 3, 2004
Even when they're far from a combat zone, flying combat aircraft carries lethal risks. At 8.30PM on February 25th, an A-10 from the 355th Fighter Squadron crashed after taking off from Alaska's Eielson Air Force Base for a night training mission, killing the pilot.
Halfway across the globe, an Indian Air Force (IAF) Jaguar fighter jet crashed near the border with Pakistan as it practiced a bombing mission, killing the pilot instantly. The pilot was attempting a low altitude maneuver on the 26th near Pokaran when something in the plane malfunctioned. Ironically, the last plane to crash at Eielson Air Force Base was also a Jaguar. This was the second crash in six days for the IAF. On February 20, a MiG-21 fighter crashed in Gujarat, west India, killing four people and injuring 14 others.
Both crashes are being attributed to technical malfunction, although preliminary investigations on the MiG-21 pointed to an engine flameout. One explanation for both crashes could be that the live armaments carried by the planes exploded accidentally, but the courts of inquiry must pinpoint the exact reasons.
The Pakistani press reported that younger IAF pilots have refused to fly the aging MiG-21 and were demanding that the extremely demanding fighter aircraft be immediately replaced. The IAF would start phasing out the oldest of the MiG-21 fighters in 2005 and would replace them with state-of-the-art Sukhoi-30 aircraft.
On November 12, 2003, two South African Air force pilots were killed when their Impala Mk1 fighter jet crashed 5 to 10 yards from the road near Nelspruit (350 kilometers east of Johannesburg). The two pilots were on a low-altitude navigation flight and ejected from the aircraft, after which one hit trees and rocks near the highway and the other collided into the windshield of a truck, before falling through the vehicle's roof. The flight was a training mission from the 85th Combat Flying School and piloted by an instructor with a student scheduled for graduation. They apparently had been playing 'chicken' with an 18-wheeler truck when the plane suffered an engine flameout. The crash was the fourth accident including the Italian-designed Impala fighters since 1999.
Those in the ground can also be in danger. During a November 2003 NATO exercise, a Dutch F-16 accidentally dropped a 500lb bomb near three observers in a hut on a firing range in central Norway. A luckier second error meant it did not explode and the three in the hut were offered counseling to overcome the shock. In June, a Royal Netherlands Air Force F-16 also mistakenly dropped a 250lb dummy practice bomb outside a Netherlands range, which impacted about 50ft from a group of tourists visiting a small museum. No one was injured from that dummy bomb. - Adam Geibel