ROME – An M-346 jet trainer aircraft undergoing test flights by manufacturer Leonardo has crashed in northern Italy, causing the death of one of the two pilots on board.
Both pilots managed to eject from the aircraft before it crashed into a mountain but one of them, a British civilian pilot, was found dead, while the other – an Italian employee of Leonardo – survived with light injuries, the company said.
The aircraft, which was due for delivery to an export customer, took off from Leonardo’s facility at Venegono Superiore at 11am on Wednesday.
In a statement, Leonardo said, “The flight plan included trials aimed at demonstrating specific capabilities which had already been tested during several flights already carried out in the past.”
It added, “At 11:35AM, any contact with the aircraft was lost.”
The aircraft crashed into Mount Legnone near Lake Como, prompting rescue services to search for the ejected pilots on the slopes of the mountain.
Leonardo said the employee of the firm who survived was a test pilot, while the British victim was an instructor pilot outsourced from an external company.
“Leonardo’s top management express their most heartfelt condolences for the loss of the pilot,” said the company, which added it had launched an internal investigation into the causes of the crash.
The aircraft was known to be undergoing test flights before export to an overseas customer. Leonardo signed last year to sell six jets to Qatar, while Greece is also set to purchase ten jets as part of a deal with Israel to set up its own flight school.
In 2020, another six aircraft were ordered in a light fighter version by an unnamed overseas customer thought to be Turkmenistan.
Tom Kington is the Italy correspondent for Defense News.