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Defector mystery after plane crash

A North Korean fighter jet possibly flown by a defector ran out of fuel and crashed in China, killing the pilot.

It came down in a village in Liaoning province about 90 miles from the border on Tuesday, China's official Xinhua News Agency said. Government officials said the pilot "might be" North Korean.

A villager near the crash site said he and other locals saw the plane flying low over the area before it crashed into an apple orchard.

"The engine was making a very strange noise and it was flying in a very weird way, with its head up and rear down," said the man, who gave only his surname, Ning. "It looked like a piece of scrap iron flying in the sky."

He said he heard from other villagers that the aircraft had flown from North Korea and that the pilot was killed on impact.

A South Korean intelligence official said the pilot may have been attempting to defect to Russia. South Korean military radar spotted the aircraft, believed to be a MiG-21, taking off from a base in the north-eastern border city of Shinuiju.

Although China is widely considered to be reclusive North Korea's closest ally, ties have been strained in recent years, particularly since the North has resisted an international effort led by Beijing to persuade it to give up its nuclear weapons programme.

In recent years thousands of North Koreans facing hunger and repression at home have made the risky journey into China, with many seeking eventual asylum in South Korea. Many swim across the Yalu river or walk across it in winter.

More than 18,000 North Koreans have arrived in the South since the Korean War, according to South Korea's Unification Ministry.

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