PARIS — A Soviet MIG-29 fighter crashed today while doing a high-performance aerobatic routine at the Paris Air Show. The pilot, the lone occupant, ejected from the jet before it exploded but was so low his chute didn't open.
The crash occurred in the middle of the airfield, up to 700 feet away from the nearest spectators, witnesses said. The pilot was taken to a military hospital where he was reported to be in satisfactory condition.
No other casualties were reported.
The fighter performed flips and turns before making its final pass over Le Bourget airfield in preparation for landing when witnesses saw two pieces fall from the aircraft. The jet then plunged to the ground and burst into flames.
The air show, which opens to the public on Friday, was attended today by the exhibitors, reporters and invited guests.
Doused Flaming Wreckage
Fire engines and a water tanker doused the flaming wreckage of the plane.
Air show spokesman Patrick Guerin said of the pilot, "It seems he had a mechanical problem with the left engine" as the plane was turning at 1,000 feet. "When he realized what was happening, showing excellent reflexes, he ejected. But he was too low. . . . He didn't have time to open his chute."
Soviet and air show officials said the pilot was taken to a nearby hospital, then to the military hospital at St. Mande, east of Paris.
The pilot's condition was "more or less satisfactory and he is able to talk," said Alexander Batkov of the Ministry of Aviation Industry.
Batkov identified the pilot as Anatoly Kvochur, 37, and described him as "one of our best."
Batkov said this was only the second MIG-29 in history to crash. The cause was not known, he said.
"The specialists must analyze the situation," Batkov said. "When we see the film, we'll know what happened. It is too early to ask questions yet."
Air show officials said there were no plans to suspend further demonstrations.
The most serious crash in the recent history of the biennial air show was in 1973, when a Soviet supersonic Tupolev 144 exploded in flight, killing the six-man crew and seven people in the nearby village of Goussainville, where it hit the ground.
Last Aug. 28, 70 people died after three Italian air force stunt jets collided at a Ramstein Air Base air show in West Germany. One plane plowed into spectators at the event.
Those who witnessed today's crash said the MIG apparently lost a wing or an engine.
The two MIG-29s at the air show arrived on Monday as part of a large contingent of Soviet aircraft on display.
John Wood of Woburn, Mass., a pilot and president of Thermetics, an air show exhibitor, said the twin-engine plane was making a "very high-performance routine" that included vertical climbs on engine power alone.
"The pilot was putting it through a very punishing routine," he said, adding that the jet might have suffered structural failure.