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Pilot survives Skyhawk crash

Published: 8:32PM Tuesday March 20, 2001

A Royal New Zealand Air Force pilot was plucked to safety from a life raft on Tuesday after his A4 Skyhawk jet crashed off the coast of Western Australia.

Flight Lieutenant Phillip Barnes - the sole occupant of the jet - had ejected from the aircraft moments before it plunged into the Indian Ocean 70 nautical miles west of Perth on Tuesday afternoon.

The RAAF base at Pearce, north of Perth, sent a helicopter to the site, and Lieutenant Barnes was rescued from his life raft within an hour of the crash, the ADF spokesman said.

He was unharmed.

The jet had been flying in formation with another RNZAF aircraft, whose pilot saw his colleague eject from the jet.

The second pilot flew over the site after the crash to ensure the downed pilot had reached his life raft, a spokesman for Australian Search and Rescue said.

The crash is the second of an RNZAF Skyhawk in and off the coast of Australia in a month, and brings to seven the number of crashes in the 30 years the RNZAF has operated Skyhawks.

On February 16, a senior RNZAF pilot died when his elderly Skyhawk jet ploughed into the ground during aerobatic exercises near Nowra in New South Wales.

Squadron Leader Murray Neilson, 37, commander of the air force's Number 2 Squadron, was killed when his jet fighter crashed in flames in bush a few kilometres from his base at HMAS Albatross.

The aircraft had failed to pull out of an aerobatic manoeuvre as Squadron Leader Neilson, from Wellington, trained for an air show at Avalon near Melbourne.

At the time, the RNZAF said there was no suggestion of mechanical error.

The airman was rescued by a private helicopter based at the Pearce air base, which does not have defence force helicopters, the ADF spokesman said.

In New Zealand, a spokesman for Defence Minister Mark Burton said the pilot was with No 2 squadron which had been on naval exercises with Australia, based in Perth.

On Monday, the pilot of a low-flying RNZAF Skyhawk escaped uninjured when his jet severed a 110,000-volt power line south east of Nelson, in the north of the South Island.

He was forced to make an emergency landing about 1pm local time after hitting the line, damaging the jet's tail.

The Skyhawk had been participating in a low-level navigation exercise, which usually involves speeds of just under 800kph.

Three Skyhawk pilots have died in crashes in the 30 years the RNZAF has been flying the jets.

Copyright AAP

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