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Air collision leaves one pilot dead

A PILOT who survived an air collision of two Slovak Air Force planes in eastern Slovakia November 6 threw himself out of his MiG-29 plane just two seconds before it exploded around 4000 metres above the ground.

A special army commission is investigating the details of the collision, which happened during a night-flight exercise by Slovak army pilots between the villages of Hnilčík and Spišské Tomášovce in the east of the country.

One of the pilots, Marián Katuška, was found dead in the cockpit of his fighter jet in early hours of the morning following the accident. The second pilot, Martin Hronec, survived the collision with minor injuries, and underwent a series of medical checks in an army hospital in the eastern city of Košice.

Hronec was found sitting by a fire that he made to keep himself warm and visible to rescuers in a deep forest miles away from the nearest inhabited area.

Peter Novotta, a volunteer who joined rescue teams searching for the pilots, told the daily Pravda that shortly before being transported to the hospital Hronec described what had happened in the air that night.

Novotta said: "He told us that he felt the plane being hit in the back. He ejected immediately and just two seconds later he saw his plane explode."

Novotta joined the rescue teams as a volunteer after having watched the collision from his village of Hnilčík shortly before 21:00.

"It happened within a second. Suddenly two fire balls appeared in the sky and began hurtling towards the ground," he said.

Vladislav Chroust head of the rescue mission, which included hundreds of firemen, police and volunteers, said that Katuška failed to eject in time. Katuška's dead body was recovered from the cockpit of his jet in early hours of November 7.

"His body had been stuck inside [the cockpit]. The seat was set loose and the backup parachute was hanging out. This suggests that he did not manage to eject in time," Chroust said.

Head of the Slovak army, Marián Cerovský, told Pravda that both pilots belonged to the country's flying elite. The crash is the eighth air crash since the country's independence in 1993. Two of the previous accidents happened during air shows.

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