The Republic of China Air Force F-16 fighter jet crashed in mountains near the capital city of Taipei in Northern Taiwan on Monday after going missing during annual military drills, killing its pilot.
According to local reports, the aircraft lost contact with the air force’s base in Hualien on the island’s east coast at around 1.43pm, after taking off from the base at 1:19 p.m. to take part in the military exercises further north. After the radar signal was lost, a search party was immediately organized and dispatched to search the mountainous region.
The wreckage of the fighter aircraft was discovered scattered around Wufen Mountain by a hiker, two hours after it disappeared from radar screens on the first day of the exercise.
The Taiwanese Ministry of Defense confirmed that the pilot of the aircraft, 31-year-old Maj. Wu Yen-ting, was killed in the crash. Major Wu was a 2009 graduate of the Air Force Academy, and had logged 736 hours flying the F-16.
“The military is the guardian of the country and it is a high-risk career … We will always remember your sacrifices. Your spirit will be with us. We will always be proud of you,” said a statement from the Taiwanese Ministry of Defense confirming the causality. Defense Minister Yen Teh-fa described the pilot as an “outstanding colleague” and praised his “loyalty and dedication to his duties.”
According to its initial findings, the air force attributed the crash to “a combination of factors, including poor weather conditions and human error”.
An investigative team is still determining the cause of the crash, and all F-16s had been grounded temporarily while the cause is determined. Eight F-16 fighter jets operated by Taiwan have crashed since 1998, killing seven pilots.
The five-day Han Kuang exercises simulate an imminent attack by Chinese military forces on Taiwan, a self-governed democracy which Beijing views as an integral part of its territory. It is one of the largest annual exercises held by Taiwan’s military and the drills come at a time of heightened tensions with Beijing.
The loss of a fighter jet at the start of the live-fire drills is embarrassing for Taipei, which holds the exercises to demonstrate the defense capabilities of its military.