BEIJING – BEIJING (AP) — A plane that crashed in a northeastern Chinese village this week belonged to the North Korean military and went down because of mechanical failure, the official Xinhua News Agency said Thursday. The pilot reportedly died on the spot.
The unusual accident involving what appeared to be a MiG-21 fighter jet spurred speculation that the plane was piloted by a defector from impoverished North Korea. It crashed Tuesday in an apple orchard in Liaoning province about 150 kilometers (90 miles) from the North Korean border.
"The plane ... lost its course because of mechanical failure and strayed into the Chinese territory," the Xinhua report said, citing unspecified Chinese government sources. "Investigations found that the crash was caused by mechanical failure."
The pilot was killed in the accident, Xinhua said. No other details were provided. Villagers in the area said they heard the pilot died on impact.
China and North Korea have "reached consensus" on dealing with the aftermath of the accident, though the Xinhua report did not elaborate except to say that Pyongyang has "expressed regret" for the crash. North Korea's state-controlled media have not reported on the crash.
Villagers said they saw the plane flying low over the area before the crash with the nose up and the tail down, making a strange noise. No one on the ground was harmed.
News photographs of the crash appeared to show a late-model MiG-21bis fighter jet with North Korean markings. It hit a small structure before stopping in a farmer's field.
Limited damage to the wings and rear fuselage appeared to indicate the pilot had attempted a controlled emergency landing.
South Korea's Yonhap News Agency has reported, citing an unidentified intelligence official, that the pilot may have been attempting to defect to Russia. Yonhap has also said South Korean military radar spotted the aircraft taking off from a base in the northeastern border city of Sinuiju.
China takes pains not to openly criticize or embarrass North Korea's government, and might be reluctant to announce a failed North Korean defection even if it involved a military plane straying far into its territory.
Though China is widely considered to be reclusive North Korea's closest ally, ties have been strained in recent years, particularly since the North has resisted an international effort led by Beijing to persuade it to give up its nuclear weapons program.
In recent years, thousands of North Koreans facing hunger and repression at home have made the risky journey into China, with many seeking eventual asylum in South Korea. Many swim across the Yalu river or walk across it in winter.
More than 18,000 North Koreans have arrived in the South since the Korean War, according to South Korea's Unification Ministry. The war ended with a 1953 cease-fire that has never been replaced with a peace treaty.
Associated Press writer Slobodan Lekic in Brussels contributed to this report.