Taiwan has grounded its F-16 fighter jet fleet as the search continues for an F-16V fighter and its pilot after the jet crashed into the ocean off Taiwan's eastern coast Tuesday afternoon, the Air Force said.
Safety checks will be conducted on all Taiwan's 140 F-16 jets, which are being retrofitted into F-16Vs for more advanced avionics, according to Air Force Major General Liu Hui-chien (???) at a press conference.
As of press time, air and sea assets from the military and coast guard were continuing to search for the pilot, Captain Chen Yi (??), said Liu.
The jet, with the serial number 6650, disappeared from radar screens at 3:23 p.m., about 30 minutes after it took off from Chiayi Air Base in southern Taiwan on a routine training mission with other aircraft, according to the military.
Weather conditions were good when the incident took place, with visibility up to 7 nautical miles, Liu said, adding that the jet was seen diving into the ocean by a member of the pubic on the coast and the pilot of one of the other jets.
There was no indication the pilot ejected from the jet and no mayday call was made, Liu said, adding that the rescue mission will continue around the clock.
Liu said Chen, who was born in 1994, has 324.05 hours accumulated flying time, with 62.2 hours clocked flying the F-16 model.
Meanwhile, the accumulated flying time of the jet was 3,415.05 hours, Liu said, and 401.4 hours were conducted after it was upgraded.
The jet had performed well over the past six months, with the latest safety check carried out in late December, Liu said.
The fighter, part of the newly-commissioned F-16V combat squadron listed under the Air Force's 4th Tactical Fighter Wing and based in Chiayi County in November 2021, was part of an "elephant walk" exercise at Chiayi Air Base with 11 other F-16Vs last week.
An "elephant walk" is a U.S. Air Force term for the taxiing of military aircraft right before takeoff, when they are in close formation.
Taiwan's 141 F-16A/B fighter jets are being upgraded to F-16V jets by the United States security and aerospace company, Lockheed Martin, and Taiwan's Aerospace Industrial Development Corp. at a cost of NT$110 billion (US$3.99 billion).
In addition to the ongoing retrofit program, Taiwan has also purchased 66 new F-16Vs from the U.S., with delivery expected to start in 2023.
There have been eight major accidents involving F-16s in Taiwan since 1998, a year after the first of two 150 F-16s procured from the United States five years earlier were delivered.
The incidents have resulted in the deaths of three pilots and injuring of a fourth, with five missing presumed dead.
In addition, a Taiwanese pilot died in a F-16 crash during a training mission near Luke Air Force Base in the American state of Arizona on Jan. 22, 2016.
Source: Focus Taiwan News Channel