HANOI: Two Vietnamese fighter jets crashed into each other during a training exercise over the contested South China Sea on Thursday, state media have reported, without confirming the fate of the two pilots.
The Sukhoi Su-22 fighters crashed offshore from southern Binh Thuan province’s coast during a diving practice, Thanh Nien newspaper said.
Vietnam conducts regular military training exercises along its lengthy coastline.
The People’s Army of Vietnam uses the Russian-made fighter jets for patrols over the portion of the contested Spratly Islands that Vietnam controls.
The country is currently locked in a long-standing territorial dispute with neighboring China over a number of islands in the South China Sea, which Hanoi calls the “East Sea”.
Both countries claim the Paracel and Spratly Islands and often trade diplomatic barbs over oil exploration and fishing rights in the contested waters.
Tensions came to a head when Beijing moved an oil rig into waters claimed by Hanoi last year, triggering deadly anti-China riots in Vietnam.
China controls the Paracel Islands, after seizing them from what was then South Vietnam in a brief battle in 1974.
The Spratly Islands are also claimed in whole or in part by the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan.