By Asma Al-Mohattwari
This past Tuesday, a Sukhoi 22 fighter jet crashed into a residential area in Sana’a’s, leaving 12 dead, including three women and two children, and 21 injured.
The crash, which occurred a short distance from Sana’a University, damaged a number of homes and vehicles. Witnesses reported that the jet crashed into three homes in the Qadisiyah neighborhood. Two homes and five area shops received the brunt of the damage.
Following the crash, soldiers from the First Armored Division, along with other military and police officials, blocked off the area.
An Air Force spokesman said a Sukhoi 22 fighter jet took off from Dailami Air Base with Captain Mohammed Ali Shaker in the cockpit. Shaker flew over the Aviation College which sits adjacent to President Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi’s residence. The pilot then communicated with the control tower at Dailami Air Base and requested permission to land. However, only several seconds after granting Shaker permission, the tower’s communication with the fighter jet was lost; a sudden technical failure had occurred, which immediately led to the crash in the Qadisiyah neighborhood.
A large number of citizen onlookers assembled from all directions. Their presence, which served to block access to the crash site, hampered rescue operations, and so the police warned residents and witnesses to move away from the area. Their warnings included the risk of possible explosions from missiles carried by the fighter jet or nearby gas canisters. Military forces used water cannons and policemen and soldiers wielded batons as they attempted to push back crowds of bystanders, journalists included.
Interior Ministry official Abdualrahman Al-Harazi said first responders had difficulty accessing the heavily-populated residential area and transporting the dead and injured to the hospital.
Local Council Secretary General Amin Joman stressed the need to implement directions issued by the president to form a committee charged with the task of limiting damage to the homes and citizens, as well as with treating the wounded over a maximum period of three days.
The local council also agreed to provide urgent initial assistance to the families of the deceased, in the amount of YR 500 thousand for each person who lost his or her life as a result of the crash; it was decided that YR 200 thousand would be provided for each person injured in the crash.
Not far from the latest crash site, an Antonov M26 crashed in Sana’a’s Hasaba neighborhood on 21 November, leaving 10 dead. Asked if it was time to move military bases away from Yemen’s heavily populated capital city, Interior Ministry spokesperson Mohammed Al-Maori said that he supported a ban on military aircraft over Sana’a’s skies.
When explosions shook the First Armored Division headquarters late last year, Sana’a Mayor Abdulqader Hilal appealed to President Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi to issue firm directions to have military camps stationed between residential neighborhoods moved outside of the city, on the grounds that they constituted a major threat to citizens’ lives.
While there had been reports that the local council would formally demand the camps’ removal and eventually replace them with parks, gardens, schools, hospitals and other buildings. As yet, anything along these lines has yet to materialize.
Official statistics show that Yemen’s Air Force lost 25 military aircraft over the past 8 years. The Air Force also lost more than 17 pilots and co-pilots, and 23 trainers and technicians over the same period.
According to the statistics, technical flaws were behind the crash of 19 of the aircraft. The causes of the remaining six crashes were not determined.
The Abaed Center for Studies and Research has shown that Yemen has 156 military aircraft, distributed among six military bases in Sana’a, Hodeida, Lahj, Aden Hadhramout and Taiz.
According to the center, the majority of the country’s military aircraft were obtained by the southern Democratic Republic of Yemen from the Soviet Union.
Experts and military technicians said that parts used on such military aircraft are old and dilapidated and furthermore are not adequately maintained.
Transport Minister Waed Batheb announced that his ministry and the Civial Aviation and Meteorology General Authority have studied the procedural steps which would need to be taken before military combat training using aircrafts over populated cities would be prohibited.
“All concerned parties must cooperate in a military training ban in cities and thus contribute to the preservation of citizens’ lives – especially after the capital of Sana’a experienced the second military aircraft crash in only four months,” said Batheb.