Taiwan grounds F-16 fleet after fighter goes missing
An F-16A of the Taiwanese Air Force (ROCAF) went missing two minutes after takeoff from Hualien airbase, on the eastern coast of the island country. The search and rescue mission to recover the pilot is still ongoing.
The single-seat F-16 jet, tail number 6672, operated by the 5th Tactical Fighter Wing, 26th Tactical Fighter Group, took off from the ROCAF airbase located at Hualien Airport (HUN). Two minutes into the flight, as the aircraft was about 16 kilometers (10 miles) over the sea, the controllers lost contact with the pilot.
Two helicopters (a UH-60M Black Hawk and an EC225 Super Puma search and rescue helicopter) and a number of coast guard vessels were dispatched to locate the aircraft and its pilot. “The army will not give up any hope, and do its best to search and rescue,” Taiwan Defense Minister Yan Defa said while visiting the family members of the missing pilot.
It is the second fighter crash to affect the ROCAF in less than a month. On October 29, 2020, an F-5E fighter jet used as a trainer crashed off the coast of Taitung, southeastern Taiwan, killing its pilot.
The F-16A Block 20 tail number 6672 entered service within the ROCAF in August 1999. It was part of the Peace Fenghuang program, an order of 150 F-16A/B-20 aircraft placed in 1992. The same year, 60 Dassault Mirage 2000 were also bought.
In August 2020, Taiwan placed another order of 66 new F-16 fighter jets for a total of $62 billion. The island country is arming up as it faces frequent Chinese incursions past the strategic central line of the Taiwan Strait. China does not recognize the sovereignty of Taiwan and thus considers the Strait as part of its territorial waters.
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