Patrick Chitumba Midlands Bureau Chief
TWO Air Force of Zimbabwe (AFZ) pilots cheated death by a whisker when their plane crashed in Gweru. Zimbabwe Defence Forces Director-General Policy, Public Relations and International Affairs, Brigadier-General John Chris Mupande confirmed the incident which occurred yesterday morning adding that the pilots managed to bail out before the plane hit the ground.
He said the aircraft – a Karakorum (K-8) jet trainer – based at Number 2 Squadron Thornhill Air Force Base crashed in an open area near Mabandla Gardens in Pfende Plots at about 9:30AM. The plots are close to the airfield.
Brig-Gen Mupande said the aircraft was taking-off for a routine training exercise when it developed a fault.
“The pilots then attempted to recover the aircraft to base but the aircraft was losing height fast and the two pilots chose an open area to eject from the aircraft and land safely. The aircraft crashed in an open area close to the base. There were no civilian causalities and no damage to property,” he said in a press statement.
Brig-Gen Mupande said Commander Zimbabwe Defence Forces, General Constantine Chiwenga, commended the pilots for having taken all precautionary measures that saved the lives of people and further prevented damage to civilian property.
“Investigations are underway to determine the exact cause of the accident,” he said.
When The Chronicle news team visited the area around 10.30AM, AFZ soldiers had already put out the fire and the pilots had been taken to Thornhill Air Base hospital for a medical check up.
Over 100 AFZ soldiers, some in plain clothes, were all over the area but movement into the affected section was restricted.
A Gweru City Council fire tender was denied access to the area since the fire from the crash had been put out by AFZ fire tenders.
Grass around the site had been burnt with a few areas showing signs of smoke.
A local resident said he heard a loud bang as the plane crashed close to his homestead.
He said thereafter, he saw a big ball of fire and smoke coming from the crash site.
“I didn’t see the pilots eject from the plane but I believe that they are safe because within a few minutes, a military ambulance arrived at the scene,” said the resident.
The Karakorum-8 (K-8) is a single-engine, advanced jet trainer and light attack aircraft designed and manufactured jointly by Hongdu Aviation Industry Corporation (HAIC) of China and Pakistan Aeronautical Complex (PAC) to replace the ageing Cessna T-37 Tweet jet trainers which is in service with the Pakistan Air Force (PAF).
The K-8 was designed to execute pilot training as well as light attack missions in all weather conditions. Its airframe is constructed with aluminium alloys.
The aircraft was designed to incorporate a fly-by-wire (FBW) system, elevator, rudder and aileron control system.
K-8 features a full-glass cockpit enclosed with a plastic bubble-shaped canopy to accommodate two crew members.
It can climb at a rate of 30m per second. The maximum speed is 800km per hour while the range and service ceiling of the aircraft are 2,140km and 13,600m respectively.
The maximum endurance is four hours 25 minutes.