An investigation has found no mechanical problems underlying the Tuesday disappearance of an F-16 jet and its pilot, the Ministry of National Defense (MND) said yesterday, adding that it does not rule out an accident due to “spatial disorientation.”
An air force F-16 jet on Tuesday evening disappeared from radar screens, just two minutes after it took off from Hualien Air Base, while the 44-year-old pilot, Colonel Chiang Cheng-chih (蔣正志), has yet to be found.
Minister of National Defense Yen De-fa (嚴德發) yesterday morning headed to Hualien for updates on the search and rescue, while giving a pep talk to Chiang’s unit, the 5th Tactical Fighter Wing.
Photo: Courtesy of Air Force Command Headquarters, MND
The ministry yesterday evening released the preliminary findings of its investigation at a news conference in Taipei.
Radio communications and maintenance records indicate that all systems were normal, and the chance of an accident due to mechanical failure is low, air force Commander General Hsiung Hou-chi (熊厚基) said.
That night it was drizzling, with visibility of about 4 nautical miles (7.5 km), he added.
While the jet took off and smoothly rose to an altitude of 2,100m, its altitude had dropped to 1,200m after 14 seconds and to sea level after 20 seconds, he said, citing readings from air force flight radar.
The military does not rule out that the pilot might have experienced spatial disorientation or an optical illusion during the ascent, he said.
Sixteen aircraft and 24 vessels have been mobilized for the search and rescue operation, he said, adding that yesterday morning, a navy vessel intercepted a signal that might have been from the missing jet.
“The military will not give up the hope of bringing Chiang home,” Hsiung said.
All F-16 jets have been grounded and while they are being inspected, Indigenous Defense Fighter jets are covering their duties, Deputy Minister of National Defense Chang Che-ping (張哲平) said earlier yesterday.
Some have said that the incident points to the increased pressure shouldered by the military as there are more frequent incursions by Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) aircraft, but Chang disagreed.
PLA aircraft are typically detected in the nation’s southwest air defense identification zone (ADIZ), so jets are mobilized from bases in Chiayi County or farther south, not from Hualien, Chang said.
Three PLA aircraft — a Y-8 anti-submarine warfare aircraft, a Y-8 electronic warfare aircraft and a Y-9 electronic warfare aircraft — were intercepted in the nation’s southwest ADIZ, military data showed yesterday.
President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) yesterday morning said that the air force has been instructed to conduct a thorough investigation of Tuesday’s incident, with those liable shouldering their share of the responsibility.
The ministry must remain vigilant regarding the nation’s defense, Tsai said, while calling on the public to show their support for the military.
Fifteen military personnel have been lost so far this year in drills or training incidents, including late Chief of the General Staff General Shen Yi-ming (沈一鳴), who was killed in a Black Hawk helicopter crash in New Taipei City on Jan. 2.
Additional reporting by CNA
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