Taiwan’s Air Force has grounded its F-16 fleet after losing a fighter jet on a training mission, President Tsai Ing-wen said on Wednesday.

The decision removes 150 planes from Taiwan’s already old and limited fleet to ward off China’s increasing incursions into its air defense identification zone (ADIZ) in recent months.

On Tuesday evening, an F-16 disappeared from radar screens two minutes after its take-off from the Hualien air base off Taiwan’s east coast as part of a nighttime training exercise, the defense ministry said. The pilot of the warplane, Colonel Chiang Cheng-chih (蔣正志), 44, has logged 2,230 hours of flight time.

A Black Hawk helicopter and coast guard vessels have been dispatched to the coast to locate the aircraft and its pilot, according to the National Rescue Command Center.

While the fate of the jet and the pilot remains unclear, the Air Force believes the F-16 has crashed. This would be the second F-16 crash in less than a month if confirmed.


Photo Credit: Reuters / TPG Images

A Taiwan Air Force F-5E jet releases a flare to avoid enemy missile tracking during the annual Han Kuang military exercise in Penghu, west of Taiwan, April 17, 2013.

On October 29, an F-5 crashed into the sea shortly after taking off from Chihhang Air Base in the eastern city of Taitung. The pilot, Chu Kuan-meng (朱冠甍), 29, ejected from the jet but died of injuries a few hours after the accident. Early Tuesday, President Tsai had honored Chu in his memorial service.

Tsai hopes that the public will keep Chiang in their prayers so that the search teams could come back with good news, said a spokesperson of the Presidential Office.

“The rescue mission is our top priority now,” Tsai told reporters at an emergency press conference on Wednesday, adding that the Air Force has grounded all F-16s for safety checks and is now conducting an investigation into the cause of the incident.

Tsai also said, “I have asked the defence ministry not to relax a bit on defence and combat readiness to ensure national security,” in clear reference to China’s almost daily encroachment of Taiwan’s ADIZ.


Photo Credit: Reuters / TPG Images

A soldier salutes Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen.

The defense ministry, while asking the media not to speculate what happened to the missing jet, said training missions need to continue in response to “the increasingly severe situation in the Taiwan Strait.”

The training accident, the fifth this year, marks Taiwan’s third military aircraft crash in 2020. In January, Shen Yi-ming (沈一鳴), 63, the chief of staff of the Taiwanese army, and seven other military officials were killed in a Black Hawk helicopter crash in the mountains of Northern Taiwan.

There have been seven F-16 crashes since Taiwan took possession of the fighter jets purchased from the United States in 1997.

Over the past four years, the U.S. has approved around US$18 billion worth of arms sales to Taiwan, including 66 new generation F-16s and 400 anti-ship cruise missiles.

READ NEXT: US Approves Second Arms Sale To Taiwan in a Week

TNL Editor: Bryan Chou, Nicholas Haggerty (@thenewslensintl)

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