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Zimbabwe Air Force jet crashes, 2 pilots said killed

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By Lebo Nkatazo

AN Air Force of Zimbabwe jet crashed early Friday killing two pilots during a training exercise over the Midlands town of Gweru, military officials confirmed.

The Chinese-made K-8 Karakoram training jet came down near the Thornhill Airbase in Zimbabwe's Midlands town of Gweru during a "routine training sortie", an army spokesman said.

The names of the pilots were withheld until their next of kin are informed, but the Air Force confirmed there were no civilian casualties in the 9AM crash.

"The two pilots were on a routine training sortie when tragedy struck," Air Commodore Shebba Shumbayawonda, the AFZ's Director General (Operations) told reporters.

Shumbayawonda said the two pilots attached to No 2 Squadron were being trained in performing fly-past stunts which are normally performed during national events such as Independence Day.

An investigation has been launched into the crash.

Zimbabwe’s ageing military hardware has not been spared by the economic downturn. The Air Force is hard hit as it struggles to get spare parts for its jets – some of which were manufactured by Britain which has imposed an arms embargo on Zimbabwe.

Zimbabwe is believed to have, among its fleet, around 10 Hawk jets, bought from the UK in the early 1980s.

In 2006, President Robert Mugabe’s government splashed on 12 K-8 training and fighter jets bought from China at an estimated cost of US$200 million.

Accidents involving military jets are rare in Zimbabwe. In 2005, a Cassa 212 military transport plane came down during take-off at the Harare International Airport, killing two pilots -- Wing Commander Lysias Charuka and Air Lieutenant Aletini Silaigwana.

An Air Force of Zimbabwe helicopter came down in April of the same year moments after take-off in Gokwe as the pilot tried to avoid telephone lines. All four onboard survived.


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