One pilot is dead and another one missing after two fighter jets from Taiwan collided midair on Monday and crashed into the sea off the island’s southeastern coast during a training mission.
The two F-5E fighter jets are believed to have collided and crashed into the ocean off the coast of Pingtung County, the third such crash in the past six months, local reports said.
The defence ministry has deployed search and rescue helicopters and maritime patrol boats to the scene and firefighters from Taitung and Pingtung have also been dispatched to conduct the search onshore. Meanwhile, the Central News Agency said that the air force has now grounded the F-5 fleet of jets that operates from the Chihhang airbase.
Local news reports said that the two fighter jets took off at 2:30 pm from Taitung’s Zhi-Hang Air Base on a training mission and collided at about 3:06 pm. It reported that the two pilots — identified by their surnames in the Taiwan News as Pan and Lo — ejected before their jets crashed into the sea.
Reuters reported that Taiwan’s defence ministry was still working on an official statement.
The National Rescue Command Center (NRCC) soon dispatched search and rescue aircraft and ships to the scene.
“At 4:14, police found an ejection seat and parachute at the 73-kilometre mark of Provincial Highway 26, but no pilot was found nearby,” Taiwan News said. “At 4:22 p.m., Lo was found in the sea with vital signs, but unconscious. He has since been transferred to the Taitung Mackay Memorial Hospital for emergency treatment.”
Lo has been pronounced dead while the other pilot, Pan, is still missing.
The US-built F-5 fleet has mostly been retired from the frontline activities, “though some are still used for training and as a back-up for the main fleet,” the Reuters reported.
Another F-5 crashed during a training mission off the coast of Taitung in October last year killing its pilot.
This collision of two Taiwanese jets comes amid increasing pressure on the island’s armed forced to “intercept Chinese aircraft on an almost daily basis,” reports said.
In January of last year, Reuters said, “Taiwan’s top military official was among eight people killed after a helicopter carrying them to visit soldiers crashed in a mountainous area near the capital Taipei. The incidents have raised concern about both training and maintenance, but also the pressure the air force is under to respond to repeated Chinese flights near the island.”
Taiwan’s defence ministry has warned Chinese aircraft are flying repeatedly in Taiwan’s air defence identification zone, seeking to wear out Taiwan’s air force, said reports.
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