Wreck of Taiwan’s most advanced fighter jet found after crash

Taiwan grounded its F-16 fleet after one of its F-16V aircraft disappeared after making a routine flight from a base in Chiayi. PHOTO: AFP

TAIPEI (AFP) - Taiwanese rescuers on Wednesday (Jan 12) located the wreckage of a F-16V jet that crashed into the sea a day before, less than two months after the island launched the first squadron of its most advanced fighters.

The jet disappeared from radar screens around half an hour after taking off for a routine training mission from its base in southwestern Taiwan on Tuesday.

The air force said the jet plunged into the sea with no sign of the 28-year-old pilot ejecting in time. The pilot was identified as Captain Chen Yi, who joined the air force last year.

The national rescue centre said wreckage of fuselage had been found but there were no signs of the pilot following an all-night search involving multiple helicopters, coastguard vessels and more than 60 officials.

The incident has dealt a blow to the new squadron of United States-made F-16Vs that was commissioned in November last year as Taiwan upgraded its ageing fleet amid rising tensions with China.

Under President Xi Jinping, China has ramped up economic, diplomatic and military pressure on Taiwan. China regards Taiwan as a renegade province to be reunified, by force if necessary.

The F-16V is an upgraded and more sophisticated version of the island's other F-16 fighters, which date back to the 1990s. Taiwan also has French-made Mirage jets and its own warplanes.

The air force has temporarily grounded its entire F-16 fleet.

Taiwan’s airforce has suffered a string of fatal accidents in recent years as it is kept under constant pressure by China, which has ramped up incursions into its air defence zone since 2020.

Last year, Taiwan recorded 969 incursions by Chinese warplanes into its air defence zone, according to a database compiled by Agence France-Presse, more than double the roughly 380 carried out in 2020.

In March last year, Taiwan grounded all military aircraft after a pilot was killed and another went missing when their fighters collided mid-air in the third fatal crash in less than six months.

Eight senior officials, including the chief of general staff, were killed in a helicopter crash in January the year before.

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