BEIJING – China is mourning the death of Yu Xu, the country’s first female J-10 jet pilot who was killed in a crash during an aerobatic training exercise, state-run media reported Monday.
Yu Xu, 30, a member of the Chinese air force’s “August 1st” aerobatic display team, ejected from her aircraft during a training exercise in the northern province of Hebei at the weekend, the China Daily newspaper said.
She hit the wing of another aircraft while trying to pull open the parachute and was killed, although her male co-pilot ejected safely and survived. She was the first woman to fly China’s J-10 fighter plane.
“As one of only four female pilots in the country capable of flying domestically made fighter jets, her death comes as a tremendous loss to the Chinese air force,” the Global Times newspaper said.
The black box and the engine of the aircraft have already been retrieved. An investigation is underway.
“We have lost a comrade and the air force feels great pain and sadness for Yu Xu’s sacrifice,” said China’s Air Force spokesman Shen Jinke.
Another pilot, 35, survived the crash. He has already been discharged from hospital, the Beijing News reported.
Yu was seen as a pioneering trailblazer in a country which enshrines women’s rights but where traditional values are still widespread.
Born in Chongzhou in the southwestern province of Sichuan, joined the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Air Force in 2005.
She graduated from training four years later, one of the first 16 Chinese women pilots qualified to fly fighter jets, the China Daily said, and in July 2012 was the first woman to fly the J-10. Fans dubbed her the “golden peafowl”, reports said.
“I am very lucky that I can fly,” Ms Yu had said in an interview. “I don’t need to think about anything but flying. If possible, I can look at the skies to divert my attention. It is another world. It’s wonderful.”
Many netizens expressed sadness at the sudden death of Yu, who was affectionately known as “golden peacock”.
Users on the Twitter-like Weibo social media service posted pictures of candles in her memory, with thousands mourning her death.
“(Ms Yu) left the world at most beautiful stage of one’s life. What a saddening loss,” internet user Dong Tao Jun wrote on Weibo.
Another netizen said: “Soldiers sacrifice themselves for the sake of the safety and happiness of the people… We are thankful for the contribution of soldiers.”
However, three crashes involving the J-10 fighter jets took place last year, and some people were dissatisfied with the way state media reported her death.
“It is more important to investigate the causes of the accident. Was it a design problem? Was it a problem with the procedures? Was it because of inadequate training?”
“[The reports] shouldn’t just be about arousing emotions. We will only be able to avoid similar accidents if the causes of the accident are found,” said one Weibo user.
J-10 fighter jet
The J-10 is a workhorse of the Chinese air force. Two of the fighters conducted what the Pentagon called an “unsafe” intercept of a US spy plane over the East China Sea in June.
An estimated 400 of the jets have been built, most for Chinese use, according to defence analysts. In December, reports had emerged of three crashes in the previous three months.