A 35-year-old F-5 fighter jet crashed on Thursday, injuring the pilot. The crash comes at a sensitive time for the Air Force amid a delay in the acquisition of next-generation fighter jets.
According to the Air Force, the F-5E single-seater jet crashed into a hill in North Chungcheong Province around midday on Thursday. The pilot, identified as a 32-year-old Air Force captain surnamed Lee, managed to eject right before the crash. He was taken to an Air Force hospital and is not in serious condition.
The fighter had taken off from a base in Cheongju for mid-air intercept training, and climbed upward abruptly right after takeoff, the Air Force said.
The pilot judged it would be impossible to make an emergency landing and ejected after steering the aircraft into a non-residential area.
"We presume that the accident was not caused by pilot mistake, given the abrupt climb-out right after takeoff," an Air Force spokesman said. "There is a possibility of aircraft structural failure or maintenance error, but it’ll take some time to find the exact cause of the accident."
There have been nine crashes involving F-5 models since 2000, with 12 of them crashing and 13 pilots killed. All the F-5s that met the mishaps were more than 20 years old. The F-5E that crashed Thursday was deployed in November 1978 and had flown 6,610 hours.
The Air Force operates about 160 F-5 models, including about 120 F-5E/Fs imported from the U.S. since 1974, and KF-5E/Fs, which were assembled here between 1983 and 1986.
The Air Force expects some 180 superannuated fighters to be decommissioned by 2019, starting with 40 F-4s produced between 1967 and 1979 this year.