Two pilots, including a trainee from Japan, died when a military training jet crashed near Montgomery Regional Airport in Alabama on Friday, officials said.
Executive airport director Marshall J. Taggart Jr. said officials were informed about the crash in an adjacent, wooded area just after 5 p.m.
The T-38 trainer was based out of the 14th Flying Training Wing at Columbus Air Force Base in Mississippi, the U.S. Air Force said in a statement. Taggart said he believed the aircraft was flying to a base in Tallahassee, Florida.
“The pilots were flying a training mission at the time of the incident,” the Air Force said.
The identities of the victims were withheld “out of respect for the families,” Col. Seth Graham, commander of the 14th Flying Training Wing, said at a news conference Saturday.
He described the student airman as a 24-year-old from Japan. The instructor, he said, was a 25-year-old Air Force lieutenant.
Japan’s defense minister, Nobuo Kishi, said the younger pilot was a Japan Air Self-Defense Force first lieutenant in the United States for training on the T-38.
The pilots were preparing to land when the jet crashed nearly two miles from a runway at the Montgomery facility, the defense minister said.
“As the defense minister, I feel tremendous grief,” Kishi said.
Graham said the duo was on the first leg of a two-leg mission in which they would stop and spend the night at a base before carrying on “cross country.” But he did not give specifics about the pair’s itinerary.
“There are no words that can describe the sadness that accompanies the loss of our teammates,” Graham said in an updated Air Force statement Friday night.
The Montgomery airport abuts an Air Force facility known as Dannelly Field, home of Alabama Air National Guard’s 187th Fighter Wing. It’s not clear if a pilot was trying to land there.
“A safety investigation board will convene to investigate the accident,” the Air Force said.
The Montgomery County Emergency Management Agency told residents to stay away from the area Friday night.
Taggart said the crash did not change the arrival and departure schedule at the airport.