Two French fighters crash, one pilot recovered
By Herve Asquin (AFP) – 13 hours ago
PARIS — Two French Rafale fighter jets crashed into the Mediterranean Sea on Thursday as they were returning to their aircraft carrier after a test flight, the navy said.
One of the pilots was rescued "safe and sound" after he ejected from his supersonic aircraft, navy spokesman Commander Bertrand Bonneau told AFP. A search was under way for the other aviator.
"It is not known yet if there was a collision," Bonneau said. "All efforts now are directed at finding the second pilot."
The Rafales -- similar to those used by the French military in Afghanistan, and which France hopes to sell to Brazil -- went down at 6:09 pm (1609 GMT) about 30 kilometres (20 miles) from Perpignan, southwest France.
They were flying back to the aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle after an unarmed test flight, Bonneau said, adding that both planes were "in the hands of very experienced pilots".
A patrol boat from the French national maritime rescue service, four helicopters, a Hawkeye surveillance aircraft and an Atlantique 2 long-range patrol aircraft were mobilised.
It was the first accident ever to involve the seagoing version of the Rafale, of which 17 have been deployed with the French navy.
Defence Minister Herve Morin immediately ordered an investigation, the French military said in a statement, adding that he intended to go to the crash site as soon as possible.
Built by French aircraft maker Dassault Aviation, the 50-million-euro (72-million-dollar) Rafale first rolled out of the production line in 1998.
France plans to have a fleet of 294 Rafale jets, including 60 for its navy. So far 80 jets have been delivered to the air force and the navy.
It has yet to find a foreign buyer, although Brazil recently expressed interest in buying 36 Rafales in a deal that would be worth several billion euros (dollars).
The Rafale, which can fly as fast as Mach 1.8 -- 2,000 kilometers (1,200 miles) per hour, or nearly twice the speed of sound -- is designed for air-to-air combat, reconnaissance flights and nuclear bombing missions.
It flies regularly in Afghan skies, dropping 250-kilogramme (550 pound), laser-guided US bombs to support NATO troops on the ground.
For the nuclear-powered Charles de Gaulle, the flagship of the French navy and its only serving aircraft carrier, the crash is just the latest in a string of problems.
For 15 months beginning in September 2007 it was out of service for nuclear refueling, then in March 2009 it was back in port after faulty parts were discovered in its propulsion system.
It returned to sea three days ago for the "requalification" of its Rafale and Super Etendard pilots and the qualification of new aviators.
The Charles de Gaulle sails with four Rafales, three Super Etendards and three helicopters -- two Dauphins and an Alouette III.
The French air force suffered the first-ever loss of a Rafale in December 2007, in a crash in Correze, central France, blamed by the military on spatial disorientation on the part of the pilot, who was killed.http://www.google.com/hostednews/afp/ar ... Lw2JaCpxGg