DUBAI// One of two pilots who ejected minutes before an Italian military aircraft crashed into the sea off the Palm Deira at the weekend has been discharged from hospital and is on his way back to Italy.
“He is going back now with his wife,” said Pietro Carrozza, the Italian deputy defence attaché.
The second pilot is still recovering at Rashid Hospital following surgery to his leg. He is expected to be discharged within the next three days.
The crew of the M-346 was returning to Italy from the Dubai Airshow when the plane crashed into the Arabian Gulf, three nautical miles from the Palm Deira, around midday on Friday. The two pilots ejected just before the plane hit the water and were airlifted from the site by a helicopter.
An Italian chief test pilot told The National yesterday the fuselage, which contains the black box, and the flight's engine had been located and will be retrieved today.
However, Mr Carrozza said the recovery operation, a joint effort between the Emirates and Italian air forces, was ongoing and could take up to 10 days to complete.
“We are arranging to bring it back on land. But, it is a very difficult and costly process. We don’t know how long it could take; it depends on the conditions,” he said.
Enrico Scarabotto, the chief test pilot for Alenia Aermacchi, the aircraft manufacturer, yesterday said the M-346 and another aircraft were returning together when the accident happened, forcing the other plane to return to base immediately.
“They [the pilots] made sure the aircraft was in a safe area during the crash. When they landed in the water, they were not too far apart from each other,” he said.
But contrary to a report from the state news agency Wam, the formation did not lose contact with air traffic controller.
“The plane that crashed was able to send the emergency signal. As soon as they touched water, they were rescued right away,” he said, adding that UAE authorities executed the rescue operation with perfection.
He said one of the pilots broke his leg during ejection. “He doesn’t remember the specific cause. But, it happened during ejection and not landing,” he said.
“At the beginning, they were shocked,” Mr Scarabotto said. “But they are okay now.”