Engineer of China's first aircraft carrier dies watching first flight

  • @cliffordcoonan

As China celebrated the first landing of a fighter jet on its new aircraft carrier at the weekend, it reserved a special hero's mention for a senior engineer on the programme who died of a heart attack after witnessing the historic event.

The death of Luo Yuan, 51, led the news on the state broadcaster CCTV, an unusually high-profile position for a scientist who was previously unknown outside the aviation business As head of Shenyang Aircraft Corporation, Mr Luo oversaw the development of the J-15 fighter-bomber, which is China's first self-designed carrier-based fighter jet and was built especially for the Liaoning, named after the province where it is based.

"Luo Yang was conducting a training mission on the aircraft carrier in north-east China's Dalian, when he suffered a sudden heart attack," CCTV reported. "Emergency surgery failed to bring him back to life." Getting the Liaoning operational is a major achievement for China. Beijing bought the carrier as a half-completed shell from Ukraine and towed it to China without engines, weaponry or navigation systems.

The high-profile coverage of Mr Luo's death and the whole carrier launch shows how important the project is to China: it is a great symbol of China's advance from poverty to becoming the world's second biggest economy, with real international diplomatic muscle. It also comes at a time when China is seeking to show its strength in the South China Sea. Beijing has many political rows ongoing with its neighbours in the region over the potentially oil- and gas-rich waters.

China lays claim to nearly the entire sea, a claim it says is backed up by historical records, but this has put it on a collision course with Vietnam, the Philippines, Brunei and Malaysia, which each claims different areas of the sea.