Taiwanese pilot killed in fighter jet over France

A Taiwanese pilot died Wednesday when the fighter jet he was flying in France burst into a ball of flames after crashing in a forest, officials said.

The jet went down in the eastern district of Froideconche, the French military press office said in a statement that did not give the cause of the accident.

The 37-year-old Taiwanese officer's death came just two months before the experienced pilot was due to complete a two-year stint in France as part of a cooperation accord between the two countries, officials in Taiwan said.

Taiwan, which bought dozens of jet fighters from France in the 1990s in an arms deal that irked China, identified the airman as Lieutenant Colonel Wang Tung-yi.

"The plane lost contact not long after taking off. The cause of the accident was not immediately clear," said air force spokesman Lieutenant General Wu Wan-chiao.

The French air force said the dead officer was an experienced pilot with 1,300 hours of flying time under his belt. He was the only Taiwanese on training in France, they added.

Froideconche mayor Henri Passard said the crash site — about 10 kilometres (six miles) from an air base — had been sealed off by rescue services.

"They first need to find out what weapons were on board," he told AFP.    

Taiwan purchased 60 Mirage 2000-5 in 1992 from French firm Dassault Aviation, with the last delivered in 2001, in an arms deal that upset China, which claims sovereignty over Taiwan and is bitterly opposed to the island's development of its military capacity.

Four of the jets sold to Taiwan have crashed in separate accidents, leaving 56 still in service.

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France hits jackpot with Qatar fighter jet deal

French group Dassault Aviation is poised to sign a multi-billion-euro deal with Qatar for 36 of its Rafale fighter jets, the presidency and sources said Thursday, the third foreign order this year.

France hits jackpot with Qatar fighter jet deal
France has struck a deal with Qatar for 24 Rafale fighter jets. Photo: AFP

Having struggled for years to sell any of its Rafale jets abroad, Dassault has recently scored several lucrative, high-profile contracts with Egypt, India, and now Qatar.

The agreement, which will be signed on May 4 in Doha in the presence of French President Francois Hollande, includes a firm order for 24 jets with an option on 12 other planes, sources close to the negotiations told AFP earlier.

Earlier this year, Egypt bought 24 Rafales in a €5.2-billion($5.8-billion) deal negotiated in just three months, prompting hopes in Paris that the agreement would act as a catalyst to unblock hoped-for sales to other countries.

India then followed suit this month by announcing the order of 36 Rafale jets during Prime Minister Narendra Modi's visit to France.

The two sides had already been engaged in years of tortuous, exclusive negotiations for the sale of 126 Rafales, but these had been bogged down over cost and New Delhi's insistence on assembling a portion of the high-tech planes in India.

So India, whose airforce is in dire need of new jets to update its ageing fleet, made a quick order for 36 planes while negotiations continue on finalising the initial 126-jet agreement.

Dassault is also involved in talks with the United Arab Emirates, and French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius has recently hinted that these are evolving "in the right direction."

The French presidency said Thursday the new deal with Qatar was a "great satisfaction."