JAS 39 Gripen jet
A pilot was killed when a JAS 39 Gripen jet (not pictured) one crashed at an air show in Thailand (file photo) Wikipedia/MatthiasKabel - own work

A pilot was killed when his fighter jet crashed in front of horrified spectators at an air show in southern Thailand.

Squadron Leader Dilokrit Phattawee was performing manoeuvres in a Swedish-made JAS 39 Gripen jet at Hat Yai air base when the plane suddenly lost altitude, smashed into the ground and exploded in a ball of fire as onlookers screamed.

The cause of the crash is not yet known and a committee has been set up to investigate. No onlookers were harmed as the crash took place well away from the viewing area.

Squadron Leader Phattawee, 35, was a member of the Royal Thai Air Force (RTAF) and was attached to Wing 56, Air Division 4 airbase, the RTAF said in a statement. According to Straits Times, defence ministry spokesman Major General Kongcheep Tantravanich said: "One pilot was killed in the accident this morning."

Deputy government spokesman Werachon Sukondhapatipakerachon said: "The prime minister has expressed his condolences to (the) pilot, his family and the Royal Thai Air Force."

The incident was captured on video by a spectator at the air show, held as part of Thailand's annual Children's Day.

Each year on the second Saturday of January Thailand's powerful military opens its bases to allow children to handle weapons and play with tanks, though they are not allowed to fire weapons. Many zoos and museums also allow free entry to children on Children's Day.