'Socialism or Death' a grim reality for Venezuela's military pilots
Hugo Chávez arrived Wednesday morning in Cuba for more cancer treatments just one day after the fiery crash of one of Venezuela's Chinese-built military jets during a flying exhibition -- raising questions about the state of military and civil aviation under President Chávez's socialist rule.
The pilots safely ejected. But minutes later, a French-built Cougar helicopter that picked them up also went down, according to media reports. There apparently were no injuries in the second crash. And last Thursday, two aging American-built OV-10 Broncos collided while practicing for the flying exhibition, leaving one pilot dead. The Bronco is a twin-engine light attack airplane.
The pilots of the Chinese-built K-8, a training and light attack jet, were putting on a display to celebrate 92 years of military aviation at Libertador Air Base in the north-central state of Aragua. The footage captured by news cameras and posted on YouTube shows the pilots ejecting from their jet as it seemed seconds away from a normal landing. A Venezuelan official attributed the jet's crash to "mechanical failure."
Reacting to the spate of crashes, the head of a private Venezuelan group that monitors security and defense issues pointed out that Venezuela is suffering a high rate of unexplained plane crashes, both in military and civilian aviation.
"In the last 10 years there have been 54 plane crashes and 140 people have died, including civilians and military. Military aviation and the armed forces owe an explanation to the country," Rocío San Miguel told Caracas television channel Globovision. She pointed out that Tuesday's crash was the
third one of a K-8 during the two years that the jet has been operational.
Since Chavez took office in 1999, he has sought to replace the U.S. as the country's main military supplier. Besides purchasing K-8s from China, Venezuela has acquired Russian MiG-29s to replace U.S.-built F-16s -- a deal that raised the eyebrows of Bush administration officials in 2004.
"It should be an issue of concern to the Venezuelan people," an unnamed Bush administration officials told a reporter. "Millions of dollars are going to be spent on Russian weapons for ill-defined purposes." He added: "Let me put it this way: We shoot down MiGs."
Questions about the safety of civil aviation in Venezuela were raised an American Thinker blog in October, 2011, "In socialist Venezuela, air travel becomes a white-knuckle affair."
This is a YouTube video of Tuesday's jet crash. The pilots eject at 1:10 into the video clip.