x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Pilot killed in military plane crash in Yemen capital

Second accident this year sparks clashes between police and residents who blamed the government for the accidents.

Air force officers and police investigate the site of a military plane crash in Yemen's capital Sanaa today. Khaled Abdullah / Reuters
Air force officers and police investigate the site of a military plane crash in Yemen's capital Sanaa today. Khaled Abdullah / Reuters

SANAA // A Yemeni military aircraft crashed in a residential section of the capital yesterday, killing the pilot and injuring at least 22 people on the ground.

It was the second time this year that a military plane crashed in a Sanna neighbourhood, sparking clashes between police and residents who blamed the government for the accidents.

The Russian Sukhoi 22 aircraft was on a training exercise when a mechanical fault send it into a free fall, the ministry said. Military officials only confirmed the death of Hani Aghbari, the pilot, while more than 22 people on the ground were injured.

Black smoke billowed above the crash site for more than three hours and at least four houses were burnt, including a four-storey building.

Residents complained the state was slow to respond, saying civil defence teams took more than an hour to reach the site.

"Luckily residents were quick and evacuated the site of the crash because firefighters arrived an hour later," said Saleem Al Maqdashi, who lives near the crash site.

Security forces cordoned off the area as hundreds of residents began to gather at the crash site. Tensions soon rose as the residents began to chant slogans and yell at the security forces over what they perceived as the government's slow response.

At least six protesters were injured when security dispersed the crowd.

"We are protesting the government's lack of responsibility and the continuous military plane crashes. It doesn't serve anyone if help comes one hour after a plane crash," said Ali Al Kholani, an injured protester.

An official at the defence ministry said there will be a review of its pilot training strategy, especially near densely populated areas. The crash took place 25 kilometres south of Yemen's air force headquarters.

"These crashes continue to happen and we need to do something to stop that," the official told The National.

The interior ministry said this is the third military plane to crash in the past year in Yemen and the second time in Sanaa.

Twelve people died in February when another military aircraft ploughed into a building in a residential area in Sanaa.

In October, a fighter jet crashed on a routine training mission in south Yemen in October. The pilot was killed and three crew members were injured in a crash described by the defence ministry as a "technical failure".

foreign.desk@thenational.ae