Three Venezuelan air force Mirage jets crash
CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) _ Three Mirage jet fighters of the Venezuelan air force crashed Tuesday in stormy weather while returning from a training flight but all three pilots managed to parachute to safety, the Defense Ministry said.
Defense Ministry spokesman Ennio Torres Izarra said four jets had conducted target practice and were returning to base when three of the single-seat craft crashed at 10 a.m. because of ″adverse meteorological conditions.″
He said the fourth Mirage landed at the Libertador air force base at Palo Negro, 40 miles west of Caracas.
Radio America, a station in Valencia 75 miles southwest of Caracas, had quoted civil defense and air force officials as saying the French-built jet fighters collided while flying in formation through bad weather.
But reporters from the newspaper Noti-Tarde in Valencia said they interviewed one of the downed pilots and he said the planes ran out of fuel when the weather over the Libertador base forced the pilots to look for other landing sites.
Noti-Tarde identified the pilots as majors Oscar Perez Escalona, Leonardo Blas Valdes and William Castro Soteldo.
It said they were rescued uninjured by civil defense and air force personnel within two hours after they had ejected from their planes.
One pilot was found in Carabobo state 75 miles west of Caracas and the two others about 25 miles farther west, the newspaper said, attributing its report to air force sources.
It said all three jets crashed inside a military controlled zone and placed the locations at 62, 110 and 130 miles west of Caracas.
Radio America had reported the officials in Valencia said only one parachute was seen after the planes disappeared. It also said the number of crewmen involved was not immediately knwon because the air force has both the single-pilot and the pilot-and-navigator versions of the Mirage.
Venezuela bought 15 Mirage jet fighters from France about 15 years ago and four were lost in previous crashes. Tueday’s accident left the air force with only eight Mirages.
In recent years the government has made major purchases of military equipment to modernize the armed forces.
In 1983 it purchased 24 U.S.-made F-16s at a cost of $615 million, and earlier this year it bought 30 Tucano trainer planes from Brazil for $52.5 million.