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Plane searching for crash pilot goes missing with nine on board

Rescuers in Vietnam have found some pieces belonging to a search plane that went missing with nine people on board while attempting to locate a pilot from a crashed fighter jet, the military has said.

The pieces including wreckage bearing the logo of the search plane, a tyre, a seat and personal belongings of crew members were discovered 20 nautical miles (23 miles/37km) south-east of Bach Long Vi island and 3 nautical miles east of the demarcation line between Vietnam and China in the Gulf of Tonkin, the Ministry of Defence said in a statement on Friday.

The plane lost contact with command centre early on Thursday afternoon, some 44 nautical miles (81km) south-west of Bach Long Vi island, off the coast of northern port city of Hai Phong.

Meanwhile, online newspaper VnExpress quoted Major General Nguyen Quang Dam, commander of the maritime police, as saying bad weather may be to blame for the aircraft's crash. He said the crew asked to descend to a lower altitude when experiencing unexpected bad weather.

The Thanh Nien newspaper quoted weather forecaster Nguyen Dinh Thuat as saying there was rain and strong wind at the time the aircraft lost contact.

The ministry statement said China has sent two vessels to join the search and rescue operations.

The nine people on board are among 1,500 personnel sent to search for the pilot, whose Russian-made Sukhoi Su-30 MK2 jet fighter crashed during a training flight on Tuesday. One other pilot from the jet was rescued by a fishing boat on Wednesday.

The Ho Chi Minh City Law newspaper reported that plane searches were suspended late on Friday morning because of bad weather.

Officials were not available for comment.

The incidents were the latest in a string of accidents to hit the military. At least two crashes of military helicopters in the past two years have killed 24 people.

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