Another plane crash raises questions about state of Czech Air Force

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A jet trainer crashed south east of Prague on Tuesday afternoon, killing the pilot, who is believed to be a high ranking officer. This is the second army aircraft accident this year. Zuzka Smidova has the details.

The L-29 aircraft was from the nearby airbase in Pardubice and twenty minutes after it took off it went into a spin, according to local eyewitnesses. Then it crashed into a cornfield near their village and they could see flames and smoke several meters high. One of the locals called the firemen, but it was too late to save the pilot. Other witnesses claim the aircraft was in flames while still in the air. Military personnel and police sealed off the whole field for a couple of hours to investigate. Throughout the night a candle burned by the remains of the plane in memory of the pilot. Now it is up to a commission of experts to decide what actually went so terribly wrong.

Since 1989 there have been some 26 military plane crashes in the Czech Republic, killing 22 airmen. Many say that the Czech Air Force is in a deep crisis, not receiving enough money and that corners are often cut when it comes to safety. A lot of the accidents involved experienced pilots and this raises questions about the technical state of the air force. And so I asked Major Petr Fajl from the Czech Air Force to comment.

"Since last year the Czech Air Force has been taking part in supervising the airspace of NATO countries. I mention this because, it is a certain mark of the quality of the Air Force, both technical and experience wise, and also in the number of hours our pilots fly. Trust me, in the countries of NATO, there are very strict regulations and rules for all these things. And if our air force wasn't up to NATO standards in any of these fields, we could in no way take part in their training and co-operate with NATO at all."

That was Major Petr Fajl from the Defence Ministry. Following the crash, all routine military flights have been banned by the Air Force command until further notice. We'll have to wait for the result of the investigation to find out whether it was pilot error or whether the crash was once again the result of technical shortcomings in the aging Czech Air Force.

Author: Zuzana Šmídová
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