A Yemeni military fighter jet crashed in the al-Qadissiya district, near Change Square, which was at the epicenter of the revolt against former President Ali Abdullah Saleh, in the capital Sanaa on Tuesday, killing at least 12 people and injuring 18 others, security sources said.
A military official said the crash occurred when the plane, a Russian SU-22, hit a residential complex around noon. All the victims were civilians, including three women and two children inside the complex and passersby.
The plane had been on a training flight when it came down in a western residential district, the defense ministry said in a statement on its website, 26sep.net.
There are conflicting reports on the fate of the pilot. The Associated Press cited Interior Ministry spokesman Mohammed al-Mawry as saying that the pilot was also killed in the crash, while Reuters reported that a security official said that the pilot had ejected from the plane.
Medical sources say the death toll could increase, as authorities were continuing to search for victims and take those injured to hospitals.
Television footage showed thick black smoke billowing from the burning wreckage of the aircraft, as residents gathered around it. “Fire flames were seen at the crash site and at nearby streets and the scene was very horrible,” a witness said.
This was the third crash of a military plane in the past few months. In November 2012, an Antonov M26 of the Yemeni air force crashed killing ten military personnel, including the pilot. The crash was blamed on a technical problem. According to Yemeni officials, the plane on landing crashed in an empty space in the Hasba district and was completely burnt out. In October 2011, another military plane crashed near an air base in southern Yemen, killing nine passengers.
It is worth mentioning that according to the International Institute of Strategic Studies' 2012 Military Balance reference book, Yemen has 30 SU-22 and four SU-22UM3 warplanes in an air force with 79 capable aircraft in all.
We certainly regret this incident and may the souls of the victims rest in peace. I am also praying for a full and speedy recovery for the wounded. At the same time, I assure you that the Yemeni government and military officials bear the responsibility for the recent incidents, because it is well known that after each flight, the plane must be checked for maintenance, as there are spare parts that need to be changed after certain hours of the flight. For sure, there was negligence in this aspect.
I think the political and military circumstances in Yemen played a role in this dereliction. According to Yemeni sources, the recurrence of the Yemeni military aircraft crashes have raised doubts about involvement of former officials or current officials amid persistent political unrest.
Until this moment, it does not seem that Yemen has settled politically and militarily after the absence of Ali Abdullah Saleh from the political scene. Accordingly, I guess that the United States and Saudi Arabia have to support the stability of Yemen on the political and military level, on the grounds that these countries use the Yemeni territory in their war against al-Qaida.