China on Friday sent ships in response to a request from Vietnam to help find a coast guard plane that crashed with nine personnel aboard while looking for a missing fighter jet and pilot, Vietnam’s defense ministry said.
The CASA turboprop plane went down on Thursday in the Gulf of Tonkin, between Vietnam’s northern coastline and China’s Hainan Island, where the rescue team had found some debris and personal items, Reuters reports, citing a statement from the ministry.
The Airbus-made plane was searching for a Sukhoi SU-30 MK2 fighter jet and a missing pilot that went off radar on Tuesday. One of the two fighter pilots was rescued from the sea the following day.
Thousands of Vietnamese coast guard, border guard, navy, air force and fishermen have been searching for the aircraft and the second pilot.
China sent one rescue and two coastguard boats to help search for the CASA plane in response to Vietnam’s request for assistance and to allow its vessels to enter the Chinese side of a maritime boundary agreed between the two countries.
The coast guard plane went down in bad weather and low visibility.
Vietnam has suffered a series of accidents in the past two years with its aging helicopters, but plane crashes have been rare.
It is currently overseeing its biggest military buildup in four decades and wants to upgrade its air and sea defenses, including plans to purchase fighter jets, a strategy experts say is aimed at building a deterrent against China’s military rise.
The Communist parties that rule China and Vietnam are historically close, but tensions are high over territorial disputes between them in the South China Sea.
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