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S. Korea suspends operation of all fighter jets

All Headlines 11:33 March 03, 2010

SEOUL, March 3 (Yonhap) -- South Korea's Air Force grounded all of its fighter jets for safety checks Wednesday, a day after two planes crashed into a mountain, killing all three pilots aboard.

The F-5 fighter jets, deployed in South Korea since the 1980s, crashed during a training mission near the east coast of the country. It marked the seventh incident of aging F-5 jet crashing in the country since 2000.

"We are temporarily suspending operation of all jets in order to conduct an extensive safety inspection," Air Force spokesman Lee Hyung-gul told a media briefing, adding the F-5 jets will remain out of operation until the exact cause of the accident is confirmed.

The ill-fated jets slammed into Mount Hwangbyeong, located about 20 kilometers west of the eastern coastal city of Gangneung. The bodies of the three pilots, segments of their clothes and debris from the planes were found near the mountain peak later in the day.

The Air Force says it is conducting investigations into all possibilities including bad visibility from the foggy weather, pilot blunders and problems within the planes.

"We expect it will take a while to determine the exact causes," Lee said. "We are trying not to jump to any conclusions."

The F-5F fighter jets, first produced during the 1970s in the United States, have been deployed in South Korea since the 1980s. Weapons experts say the life expectancy of fighter jets is no longer than three decades.

Two South Korean pilots died in 2004 after two F-5E jets crashed in 2004 and another four died the following year when F-5F and F-4E jets crashed during drills.

In the most recent case, two F-5E fighter jets crashed in Pocheon, just 46 kilometers from Seoul, according to Seoul's defense ministry.

The Air Force is currently discussing a funeral schedule with relatives of the deceased pilots with the funeral likely to take place on Thursday, Lee said.

hayney@yna.co.kr
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