M-346 Crashes During Test Flight In Northern Italy. One Of The Two Crew Members Killed In The Incident

M-346 crash
FIle photo of an M-346. In the boxes, the smoke from the crash site as seen in videos published online and the track of the aircraft from Flightradar24.com

An M-346 destined to an export customer crashed in the mountains near Como. The crew ejected: one found dead, the other rescued and hospitalized.

An M-346 aircraft crashed at approximately 11.35AM LT in the area above Colico (Monte Legnone) near Como, Italy, on Mar. 16, 2022. The jet had taken off from Leonardo airfield at Venegono and was involved in a test flight in a restricted airspace located over northern Italy.

Both pilots ejected from the aircraft: one was rescued and hospitalized whereas the other was found dead. The latter was an English outsourced instructor pilot.

File photo of an M-346 Master (Image credit: Leonardo)

According to the Corriere della Sera media outlet, the M-346 “Master” was one of those destined to a foreign air force, undertaking a pre-delivery flight. Many in the area have reported to have seen a “fireball” in the sky (although these reports should always be taken with a lot of grain of salt, considered that people may have seen the ejection of the pilots and not an engine fire). A dense black cloud raising from the top of the mountain was visible several kilometers away.

The first statements released by Leonardo say that “The flight plan included trials aimed at demonstrating specific capabilities which had already been tested during several flights already carried out in the past […] as per its established practice, has immediately activated an internal investigation committee. The cause of the accident is under investigation.”

The mission of the M-346 could be monitored on Flightradar24.com and the fact that the photo on the popular flight tracking website showed the MM55218 initially led the Corriere della Sera and outlets to report that it was that exact airframe to be involved in the crash.

The track of the M-346 that crashed on Mar. 16, 2022. (Image credit: via Flightradar24.com)

However, this was later denied, as one of the few things that have been officially confirmed is that the aircraft was destined to an unknown export customer.

Which one? Hard to say, based on the currently available information.

At the end of 2021, Leonardo officially announced 16 M-346 orders, including 10 to the Israeli Elbit for the establishment and operation of the Hellenic Air Force (HAF) International Flight Training Centre and 6 for Qatar.

The first QEAF M-346 aircraft with Qatari national markings appeared in photos that started circulating online in January. It was later confirmed by Leonardo that those in Doha, Qatar, were the first three advanced jet trainers of the six purchased as part of an agreement for the Qatari pilot training at the International Flight Training School, a joint venture between the Italian Air Force and Leonardo, currently located at Lecce-Galatina Air Base, in southeastern Italy, but about to relocate to Decimomannu Air Base, Sardinia, where Qatari, Japanese and German pilots (along with Italian Air Force ones) are trained.

Previously, in 2020, a deal for six Masters, including four M-346FA light attack aircraft, with an “undisclosed export customer” was revealed. In 2021, this undisclosed customer turned out to be Turkmenistan after video footage released by the nation’s state-owned news agency showed two brand new M-346FA in Turkmen Air Force colors.

One of the Turkmen Air Force M-346 at Venegono. (Image credit: Matteo Buono)
About David Cenciotti
David Cenciotti is a journalist based in Rome, Italy. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviationist”, one of the world’s most famous and read military aviation blogs. Since 1996, he has written for major worldwide magazines, including Air Forces Monthly, Combat Aircraft, and many others, covering aviation, defense, war, industry, intelligence, crime and cyberwar. He has reported from the U.S., Europe, Australia and Syria, and flown several combat planes with different air forces. He is a former 2nd Lt. of the Italian Air Force, a private pilot and a graduate in Computer Engineering. He has written five books and contributed to many more ones.