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.
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.
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.
QEAF Aermachi M-346 pic.twitter.com/DaHH3uaYfZ
— Nasser🇶🇦 (@NasserF15QA) January 26, 2022
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.