A missing Taiwanese fighter jet is believed to have crashed soon after take-off on Tuesday evening, the island’s air force said.
If confirmed, the accident will be another blow to Taiwan’s military following the death of a pilot after his plane crashed into the sea last month.
In the latest incident, the F-16A disappeared from the radar two minutes after taking off from an airbase in Hualien on the east coast of the island at 6.05pm, according to a brief statement from the air force.
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The plane was around 16km (10 miles) over the sea when controllers lost contact with the pilot, later identified as Colonel Chiang Cheng-chih, and a search mission has started.
The island’s Rescue Coordination Centre said it had sent a helicopter to look for the missing plane with help from five coastguard vessels.
The air force said Chiang, a squadron commander, had completed 2,230 hours of flying time.
The plane went missing just hours after Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen attended a memorial service for a pilot who was killed on October 29.
Tsai, accompanied by Defence Minister Yen Te-fa, presented a medal to the family of Chu Kuan-meng, who died when his F-5E crashed into the sea soon after taking off from Chihang airbase in Taitung.
The air force grounded all 46 of its F-5s after the accident and they had only resumed operations on Monday.
The planes had previously been grounded after a crash in Hualien in 2011.
Taiwan’s air force has also lost seven F-16s to crashes, six of them fatal, since 1988. In the most recent incident two years ago, one of the fighters crashed into the mountains near Taipei during the annual invasion drill, killing the pilot Wu Yen-ting.
Taiwan now has 142 F-16A and F-16B jets and opened Asia’s first F-16 centre in August.
The NT$110 billion (US$3.9 billion) facility in Taichung was jointly established by Taiwan’s state-run Aerospace Industrial Development Corporation and US-based Lockheed Martin, which makes the fighters.
The Northrop F-5, which was first assembled on Taiwan in 1973, used to be the mainstay of the island’s air force and at one time it had 242 single-seated F-5Es and 66 twin-seater F-5Fs.
But since the military started equipping itself with F-16s as well as French Mirages and the domestically designed F-CK-1, its role has been downgraded.
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