U-2 pilot 'did everything' to avoid crash
OSAN AIR BASE, South Korea — The pilot of the U-2S reconnaissance plane that crashed Sunday into rural South Korea said he did everything he could to keep from injuring anyone on the ground, according to a base news release.
Base officials kept the pilot’s identity a secret, citing operational security reasons. And few details emerged about the accident in which the pilot had ejected safely about 3 p.m. Sunday before his plane crashed about six miles west of Osan, injuring four South Koreans and damaging their property.
Among the injured was Sin Jong-ho, 47, who suffered second-degree burns to his face, neck, wrists and ankles.
Sin talked briefly with Stripes on the phone from Hangang Sungshim Hospital on Monday afternoon. Sin, a forklift operator, could say only that he was at work when the plane crashed. He said he was too tired to provide further details.
A nurse at the hospital, Kim Sun-yong, said Sin was being treated for his burns. She said the hospital staff must closely monitor Sin because burn victims’ injuries are often worse than originally estimated.
Park Hyun-ja, 49, Chong Sam-sun, 58, and Chong Byong-hun, 27, also were treated for minor injuries at a local clinic.
“I am deeply sorry for injuries, damage, or suffering caused by this accident for anyone on the ground,” the pilot was quoted as saying in a written statement from the base.
“I did everything I could with the aircraft to try to keep it away from densely populated areas before I had to eject. When I recover from my injuries, I hope to meet with those most affected and personally let them know how sorry I am for this accident.”
Osan officials said the pilot is being treated for a back injury, is in stable condition and is expected to fully recover.
The pilot also thanked, “those local Koreans who stopped and offered me their assistance and the use of a cell phone once I was on the ground.”
Armed U.S. military policemen and more than 115 South Korean police stood guard overnight where the highly classified plane crashed. The U-2, when loaded with its vast array of sensors and antennae, can collect multisensor photo, electro-optic, infrared and radar imagery, according to the Air Force.
Base personnel worked throughout the night to clean the crash site.
Maj. Edwina Walton, Osan spokeswoman, said the majority of the wreckage has been cleaned up and there is a limited area still cordoned off around the direct impact spot.
Another spokeswoman, Lt. Toni Tones, said officials cannot estimate when they’ll be finished because snow began falling Monday morning, hampering recovery efforts.
Officials also were searching for the pilot’s ejection seat and asked anyone with information about its location to call 031-661-4044.
Tones said the wreckage being gathered will be brought to Osan for the investigation process.
According to Osan officials, an interim safety investigation board was convened to determine possible causes of the crash and precvent future mishaps.
Military officials released apologies just hours after the plane hit the ground. Both Brig. Gen. Mark Beesley, vice commander, 7th Air Force, and Brig. Gen. William Holland, 51st Fighter Wing Commander, expressed concern.
Base officials also provided compensation to one family displaced by the accident.
Tones wouldn’t provide the amount given to the family, saying it’s private.
“However, it’s by no means a replacement for the loss the family may have experienced,” Tones said.
U.S. military officials were blasted by South Koreans for not apologizing quickly enough after a June 13 accident in which two South Korean girls were crushed to death by a U.S. tracked vehicle traveling off base in a convoy.
Thousands of South Koreans protested the deaths and presence of the U.S. military on the peninsula during the turbulent summer. When a military court-martial acquitted two sergeants of negligent homicide charges, the protests intensified and launched a surge of anti-Americanism.
Representatives from at least two protest groups raced to the accident scene Sunday, gathering information about the crash.
Kim Pan-tae, a member of the Pan-Korean Committee For Two Girls Killed by a U.S. Army Armored Vehicle, an anti-military protest group, was at the site Sunday night with a colleague who was filming the wreckage.
Kim told Stripes that he wonders how much effort the pilot put into avoiding South Korean civilians.
He said it really doesn’t matter, though, because he doesn’t expect the U.S. Air Force “will conduct a proper crash investigation.”
Kwon Park Hyo-won, from OhmyNews, was gathering information for her company’s Web site, www.ohmynews.com. The site sells itself as a “guerrilla news site,” and a watchdog over the U.S. military.
“I was kind of relieved that plane didn’t hit either the gas station or the pharmaceutical factory,” she said. “I also feel there should be proper compensation for the injured.”
Neither Kim nor Kwon knew of any planned protests in connection with the accident.
“We’ll have to wait and see,” Kim said.
The U.S. Embassy, which established dialogue with many of the protest groups in connection with the June accident, said they’ve received no complaints about the U-2 crash.