A People’s Liberation Army Naval Air Force fighter jet crashed during routine training on Tuesday near an air base in southern China’s Hainan province, killing two crew members. An investigation by the military was under way, according to media reports.

The crash left a trail of destruction in farmland in Ledong county in southwestern Hainan, including a water tower that was completely shattered, but the Chinese Defense Ministry stressed that there were no civilian casualties on the ground.

Local residents who filmed the crash and uploaded mobile-phone footage to the Internet told reporters that the jet veered violently in the air in a bid not to hit a nearby school before plunging into the ground. A blaze broke out, with fumes from piles of wreckage visible hundreds of meters away.

Some suspected the warplane could have been a JH-7, whose service with the PLA since the 1990s has been punctuated by fatal accidents.

The supersonic, fourth-generation fighter-bomber is a tandem, twin-engine warplane with precision air-to-surface capability. It has a payload of 9,000 kilograms and can cruise at Mach 1.75 within an operational radius of 1,600 kilometers.

There have been talks that the lightweight JH-7 could be deployed aboard the Chinese aircraft carrier Liaoning and its sister ship now undergoing sea trials.

A file photo of a JH-7. Photo: PLA Daily
Ledong county in southern China’s Hainan province. Photo: Google Maps

It has also been revealed that the PLA base in Ledong also services the J-11, the Chinese reproduction of Russia’s Su-27 air superiority fighter. Some reports say the output has been elevated to a higher status in the PLA’s deployment because of its proximity to Vietnam as well as the Paracel Islands in the northern portion of the South China Sea.

Some observers said the stepped-up training and patrols as well as the quicker wear and tear on aircraft, coupled with an emerging shortfall of experienced airmen, were to blame for the latest accident.

Meanwhile, two US B-52 bombers from Guam flew over the disputed South China Sea on Wednesday for the second time in only 10 days.