The pilots of the two fighter jets in a crash off central Vietnam last week may have died as new evidence suggests that emergency parachutes were not deployed, a senior official says.
Rescuers found pieces of the ejection seats on the sea bed on Monday and a following examination suggested the seats had not been propelled out of the aircraft before the crash into the sea, said Lt. Gen. Vo Van Tuan, Deputy Chief of Staff of the People’s Army.
“That means the pilots couldn't have parachuted safely before the crash,” news website VnExpress quoted Tuan as saying.
The two Russian-made Sukhoi Su-22 took off from Phan Rang Airport at 11.24 a.m. on April 16 for an exercise in the East Sea, the Vietnamese name for the South China Sea. They lost contact at 11.35 a.m.
The crash site is about 10 to 15 kilometers southwest of Phu Quy Island in Binh Thuan Province, officials said.
Strong currents on the day the accident happened may have washed away the two pilots, Lieutenant-Colonel Le Van Nghia and Captain Nguyen Anh Tu, together with other parts of the jets, Tuan said.
“In the next days, seeking the pilots continues to be our priority, and then the black boxes that would help identify the cause of the incident,” said Tuan.
Last Sunday, fisherman Nguyen Phung, who witnessed the crash and helped rescuers narrow the search area, said he did not see anybody being ejected from the aircraft.
“My son and I were fishing in our boat when we heard a whirr and saw an aircraft and then another crashing into the sea,” Phung told Thanh Nien.
“We didn’t see anyone parachute from the jets,” the 68-year-old man said, adding the jets fell 100-150 meters away from where they were.
Soon after the accident, rescuers suggested the pilots may have parachuted down to the sea after they thought they found pieces of a parachute. But they later said it's a mistake.
They said they found one of the tails on the sea bed on Friday and pieces of the wings and cockpits Sunday.
The crash is the latest in a series of setbacks for Vietnam's military, which also saw two fatal helicopter accidents in the past nine months in which 24 people died.