Two Russian Sukhoi Su-34 fighter/bombers collided in midair over the Sea of Japan early Friday, about 20 miles off the Russian coast. Two crewmen were able to eject and have been recovered by Russian Search and Rescue teams. It appears the second jet may have been able to return to a nearby airstrip under its own power.
According to Russian Defense Ministry statements, the two aircraft were unarmed and that the flight was a part of routine training operations.
“On January 18, at 08:07 Moscow time, during a planned training flight over the water area of the Sea of Japan, 35 km from the coast, two Su-34 planes of the Far Eastern Air Force and Air Defense Force touched the air,” a basic translation of the Russian statement reads. “The An-12 aircraft and two Mi-8 helicopters of the search and rescue forces are searching for pilots in the area of ejection.”
According to some as-yet unconfirmed reports, the two fighters that collided were a part of a larger 7-aircraft formation. Some Russian outlets have also reported that one of the two damaged Su-34s actually managed to limp their aircraft back to an airstrip. Reports of just two crewmen being pulled from the Sea of Japan may support this possibility, as the Su-34 is a twin seat aircraft. Thus far, the Ministry of Defense has not issued a statement confirming these reports, however.
Both rescued pilots have been reported to be in “satisfactory” condition, and all Su-34 flights have been grounded pending the results of an investigation into the incident.
The Sukhoi Su-34 is a two-seat, twin engine, medium range fighter/bomber capable of exceeding Mach 1.8 at altitude. A medium range attack aircraft, the primary role of the Su-34 is air-to-surface engagement. Although the first Su-34s took flight in 1990, the aircraft did not enter into active service with the Russian military until 2014, where it is slated to eventually replace both the aging Su-24 and the Tu-22M3 bomber.
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