A Taiwanese air force fighter plane crashed Monday, killing the pilot and marring this week’s annual military exercises intended to help safeguard the island from its main foe, China.
The American-made F-16 fighter disappeared from radar screens an hour after takeoff Monday afternoon in low mountains outside the major northern port city of Keelung. Later, a hiker called police with reports of wreckage, the Taiwanese Defense Ministry and the government-backed Central News Agency reported. The pilot, identified as Maj. Wu Yen-ting, 31, died on the spot.
His crash, the second for Taiwan’s air force in less than a year, points to a lapse in personnel training and aircraft mechanics as Taiwan comes under more pressure from China, said Alexander Huang, a strategic studies professor at Tamkang University in Taiwan.
Eight F-16s have crashed in Taiwan since 1998, according to the Defense Ministry. An air force Mirage 2000-model aircraft disappeared in November and was never found.
Monday kicked off Taiwan’s five-day Han Kuang live-fire exercises that simulate attacks from China.
China sits across an ocean strait, 100 miles from Taiwan at the nearest point, and has the world’s third-strongest armed forces.
Chinese officials claim sovereignty over self-ruled Taiwan and resent the Taiwanese president of two years, Tsai Ing-wen, for rejecting their idea that the two sides belong to a single country. Taiwan and China have been separately ruled since the Chinese civil war of the 1940s.
Monday’s crash, attributed tentatively to weather conditions and human error, has grounded all F-16 flights until further notice. The air force has 140 of the fighter planes.
“Han Kuang will still be on, but of course the events with F-16 fighters would be changed,” Defense Ministry spokesman Chen Chung-chi said.
China has flown military aircraft a dozen times just outside Taiwan’s air defense identification zone over the past three year as pressure on Tsai.
Jennings is a special correspondent.