SEOUL — The top U.S. military commander in South Korea released a statement of condolence Thursday following the death of two South Korea air force pilots killed when their F-15K fighter crashed into waters off the east coast during training Wednesday night.

“We mourn the loss of these brave pilots who died training to defend the peace and security of all those living here in Korea,” said Army Gen. B.B. Bell, commander of U.S. Forces Korea, the Combined Forces Command and the United Nations Command. “On behalf of all USFK servicemembers, I express our deepest sympathies and condolence to the families of those whose lives were lost as a result of this incident.”

The crash site was discovered early Thursday, according to local news reports.

A Korea Times news report identified the pilots at Maj. Kim Sung-day, 36, and Capt. Lee Jae-wook, 32. Kim, the Times reported, was trained in the United States.

According to the Korea Times report, Brig. Gen. Kwon O-seong, chief of air force policy and public affairs, said Thursday that the service would ground the other F-15K jets until the investigation is complete.

“We’ll take appropriate steps in line with the results of an investigation into the cause of the crash,” Kwon said, according to the Times.

South Korean experts and a team from Boeing are to investigate the accident, according to the report.

Under what it called the F-X program, South Korea is to purchase 40 of the fighter jets by 2008 at about $105 million each, according to the Korea Times. And 20 more aircraft will be purchased beginning in 2009, according to the report.

“The F-15K can perform missions during day or night, in virtually any weather, carrying more than 23,000 pounds of payload, including the SLAM-ER, Joint Direct Attack Munition and Harpoon Block II anti-ship missiles,” according to a news release on Boeing’s Web site (

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