Taiwan air force Mirage fighter lost, pilot ejects safely
TAIPEI, Taiwan (AP) — Taiwan’s air force said one of its French-made Mirage 2000 fighter jets appears to have been lost off the island’s east coast, but the pilot has been rescued after parachuting to safety.
The air force said Lt. Col. Huang Chung-kai ejected at around 11:30 a.m. (0330 GMT) Monday after reporting mechanical trouble.
Huang had taken off about one hour earlier from Taitung Air Base on a routine training mission, the air force said. He was picked up by a rescue helicopter, it said.
Taitung lies on the Pacific Ocean on the opposite side of the island from the Taiwan Strait, which divides Taiwan from mainland China.
At a news conference, air force Maj. Gen. Liu Hui-chien said Huang radioed in that he was having problems about half an hour before ejecting about 10 nautical miles (18 kilometers) south of the base.
Huang is in good condition at an area hospital, Liu said, and all Mirage 2000s have been grounded pending further investigation.
Taiwan’s air force has suffered from aging equipment and difficulties purchasing replacements amid Chinese efforts to isolate the island it considers its own territory to be annexed by force if necessary.
It operates 55 Mirage 2000s purchased in the 1990s amid Chinese anger, along with 140 U.S. F-16s and 129 homemade IDF fighters.
Along with the usual problems caused by age, Taiwan’s fighters have suffered additional wear and tear from frequently scrambling to meet Chinese military aircraft that routinely cross into Taiwan’s air defense identification zone. Some military observers believe that may be part of a deliberate Chinese strategy to degrade Taiwan’s air defenses over time.
The struggle to maintain an aerial presence over the Taiwan Strait and South China Sea, which Beijing also claims, has taken its toll on Chinese planes as well.
Many of the aircraft China uses on such missions are slower surveillance, patrol and transport aircraft such as the Y-8, one of which reportedly crashed in the South China Sea earlier this month.
Taiwan’s National Security Bureau said the plane went down on March 1 and China launched a search and rescue mission under the guise of holding military exercises in the area.
China has not acknowledged the crash and it has not been independently confirmed.