A J-10 fighter crashed in southern China in the afternoon of Oct. 18, killing the pilot. The crash occurred in the city of Zhanjiang, Guangdong Province, which is host to the first ASEAN-China Maritime Training Exercise that started on Oct. 22 and is scheduled to last until Oct. 28.
A woman who works in Zhanjiang spoke with The Epoch Times about the incident on Oct. 19. She reported that the fighter caught fire while airborne and that the pilot seemed to have no chance to use his parachute. The woman’s name has been omitted to protect her identity.
“I was told that they were doing a military drill, but the fighter caught fire in the air. The debris was crashed in the rice paddy,” she recalled.
Though Chinese media kept silent after the accident, with no posts on Weibo or other social media, many local people shared videos and photos with their friends on WeChat, a Chinese equivalent to Facebook.
In video shot by onlookers, the wreckage of the fighter jet and the pilot’s body could be on the ground and in the rice paddy. Some parts of the plane were still smouldering, and the yellow aircraft number “7411” is visible, is is the emblem of the People’s Liberation Army.
According to Hong Kong’s Apple Daily, the fighter was a J-10S with two airmen on board, both of whom died.
An insider said the accident occured close to the PLA’s Suixi Air Base, and the fighter belongs to the Air Force Sixth Brigade of the PLA’s Southern Theater Command.
The fact that the aircraft crashed just days before the beginning of the ASEAN-China Maritime Training Exercise makes it a matter of particular sensitivity for the Chinese authorities, which have kept silent about the accident thus far.
Multiple member states of ASEAN, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, are represented at the military exercises in Zhanjiang — including Singapore, Philippines, Brunei, Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Myanmar.
The J-10S is a tandem-seated trainer variant of the J-10A, created by lengthening the fuselage. The second seat is for a weapons operator.
The J-10, and the Chinese aircraft industry in general, faces steep challenges in terms of quality and original design.
Development on the J-10 began in 1986. It was designed by the Chengdu Aircraft Design Institute and made its first flight in 1998. It was accepted into service in 2003, but has a long history of accidents typically caused by engine failure.
The J-10 uses the Russian AL-31FN turbofan engine, which is based on the AL-31F designed for Sukhoi Su-27 fighter. China tried to make its own engine, the WS-10, to replace AL-31FN. Since 2006, WS-10 engines have been installed in some J-10 fighters.
At least seven J-10 fighters have crashed between 2014 and 2016, killing multiple pilots and people on the ground. A crash in June 2016 killed Yu Xu, the first woman to fly the J-10.