Seoul, South Korea – Two South Korean air force planes collided in mid-air during training and crashed near their base on Friday, killing all four people on board the plane, officials said.
Both planes were KT-1 trainer aircraft – South Korea’s first home-developed aircraft – that took off one after the other from an air force base in the southeastern city of Sacheon for flight training, the air force said in a statement.
The collision happened about five minutes after the first plane took off and about 6 kilometers (3.7 miles) south of Sacheon base, the air force said.
There were two people on board each of the two KT-1 aircraft – a training pilot and an instructor. All four were thrown from the planes but were later found dead, the Air Force statement said. The four victims were identified as two first lieutenants and their instructors, both civilian Air Force employees.
The Air Force said it would deploy a task force to investigate the cause of the collision.
The Air Force said the crashes caused no civilian casualties on the ground and they are trying to determine whether civilian property was damaged.
Lee Seong-gyeong, a Sachon police officer, said a passenger car was destroyed after being hit by debris, but added that officials were not immediately aware of any other significant damage to civilian property. South Korean media released photos of the mangled vehicle surrounded by scattered machinery that appeared to have come from the planes.
Local emergency officials previously said three bodies were found in a mountainous area and an agricultural field in Sachon. They said they believed the planes crashed into a mountain because a fire broke out there.
Local officials said three helicopters, 20 vehicles and dozens of rescue workers have been dispatched to the suspected crash sites. They said a number of military personnel were also sent.
Friday’s incident came after an Air Force pilot died in January when his F-5E fighter jet crashed near Seoul in an incident that prompted the country to ban these planes, which had been in service since the 1970s. to be taken out of circulation quickly. After investigating the crash, the Air Force said last month it was caused by a damaged pipe that caused fuel to leak into the engine, which caught fire during takeoff. South Korea reportedly operates around 80 F-5E and plans to phase them out by 2030.
The KT-1 has been used by the country’s Air Force since 2000. Sacheon was the site of another KT-1 crash in November 2003, killing a training pilot.
Plane crashes and other military-related accidents occasionally happen in South Korea, which maintains a 560,000-strong military to ward off potential aggression from rival North Korea, which is one of the world’s largest militaries with about 1.3 million soldiers. About 28,500 American troops are stationed in South Korea, a legacy of the 1950-53 Korean War that ended in an armistice rather than a peace treaty.