French navy calls off search for missing jet crash pilot

28th September 2009, Comments 0 comments

French navy on Sunday called off the search for a pilot who went missing after a mid-air collision between two Rafale fighter jets over the Mediterranean, following a three-day hunt.

"All leads offering any sort of hope have been investigated," the navy said in a statement.

"It was decided to halt air searches for the pilot at 21h00 (1900 GMT)."

The pilot, 45-year-old Francois Duflot, went missing on Thursday when the jet he was flying crashed into another as the planes flew back to the aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle off the coast of Perpignan, southern France.

They had just completed a test flight when they went down.

A second pilot Yann Beaufils, 40, ejected and was rescued after the accident. He suffered an eye injury and bruises to his face.

Duflot had clocked up 5,000 flying hours before the accident, according to the French defence ministry's armaments agency (DGA) where he worked as a test pilot.

The married father-of-three was an "outstanding pilot" who had flown 34 different aircraft and taken part in more than 80 combat missions, the DGA said.

The navy added Duflot's colleagues were struggling to come to terms with his disappearance, which had "deeply affected" them.

Defence Minister Herve Morin described the collision as an accident and said initial findings showed the combat planes had not run into any problems.

France is in final-stage negotiations with Brazil for the sale of 36 Rafales, estimated at between EUR 5 and 7 billion, the first export contract for the Dassault-made planes.

The Brazilian air force has asked for information on the crash, the first involving naval versions of the Rafale, which is competing with the US Boeing-made F/A-18 Super Hornet and the Gripen NG made by Sweden's Saab for the contract.

Boats will continue searching the crash site for the parts of the two planes, the navy said, adding several pieces of the jets had already been recovered from the water.


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