Military dismisses defection speculation over missing F-16

The China Post news staff

HUALIEN, Taiwan — The military yesterday rejected speculation that an Air Force jet fighter that went missing Tuesday might have flown to China as part of a defection. Yang Feng-sheng, a spokesman with the Hualien Air Base, said such defection rumors should not have been made at all, as they added to the suffering of the family of the missing pilot, Major Ting Shih-pao. Ting was reported missing Tuesday night during a training flight on his single-seat F-16 off the coast of the eastern county of Hualien. Searches for the missing plane and pilot reported no results as of last night. “This is really an improper question to ask,” said Yang when asked by the press to comment on the possibility of defection. “The family is already saddened because of the missing jet fighter. Such (defection) speculations should not have been made,” said Yang. The spokesman said Ting’s family was still waiting anxiously at the Hualien base for news of the search. Yang said the Air Force was investigating the incident, and it was not yet certain whether the major had ejected from the plane. According to the spokesman, Ting took off from the Hualien base at 6:50 p.m. Tuesday, and then was still contact between the pilot and base at 7:00 p.m. But at 7:18 p.m., the plane went missing from the radar.

Other Air Force jet fighters already up in the air on similar training flights were informed of the situation, but they could not find any trace of Ting’s plane in the dark. Ting said according to the last radar signal of the plane’s location, Ting went missing 43 nautical miles off the coast of Hualien. Military ships and planes and Coast Guard vessels were still searching the area, Yang said. Yang maintained that maintenance records from the past three months showed Ting’s plane was in good condition. He also said Major Ting was also in good health, as he just passed a medical check-up in December. He said there was no sufficient evidence to warrant a flight suspension for all F-16s, although the Air Force gave top priority to flight safety, but the Air Force would examine the F-16s. He added that Ting was an experienced pilot, logging more than 1,230 flight hours, 383 of which were from flying F-16s.

Defense Minister Tsai Ming-hsien has promised Ting’s family that the military will go all-out to search for the pilot within 72 hours of the accident, according to a statement from the Ministry of National Defense. “We give top priority to saving lives. We will not give up any hope,” Tsai was cited as saying.