TAIPEI (CNA) – The Air Force and Aviation Safety Council (ASC) will conduct a joint investigation into a missing Mirage-2000 fighter jet that disappeared from radar screens off northeast Taiwan on Tuesday night, the military said on Wednesday.
The aircraft, piloted by Captain Ho Tzu-yu (何子雨), listed under the Hsinchu-based 499th Tactical Fighter Wing, took off at about 6:09 pm for a regular night time training exercise, according to the Air Force.
The jet lost contact with the control tower at 6:43 p.m. about 60 nautical miles north of the Pengjia Islet (彭佳嶼). The search mission is ongoing, but so far rescue teams have failed to locate the missing aircraft or its pilot, according to the Air Force.
Air Force Deputy Commander Lieutenant General Chang Che-ping (張哲平) told a news briefing on Wednesday that the military will send all related information to an ad hoc investigative committee established to probe the cause of the incident.
The information will also be shared with the ASC, the nation’s aviation accident investigation authority, he added. Citing such information, Chang said Ho’s jet was flying at around 5,200 feet at a speed of less than 300 nautical miles per hour before its signal disappeared from the radar.
Ho’s communications with the control tower were normal up to that point, he noted. So far there is no indication he ejected from the aircraft. In such situations, a pilot’s life vest would normally send out a radio signal to enable rapid retrieval, according to Chang, but the military has been unable to locate the signal, he added.
As a result, the rescue team is conducting a comprehensive grid search of the area where the plane was last located, which is time-consuming, Chang noted. Chang dismissed suggestions that the pilot could have defected to China.
Ho’s jet was one of four Mirage-2000s participating in the training exercise and it was unlikely he would have been able to fly to China without being noticed by the other pilots, he added.
Chang said all four fighter jets were flying within Taiwan’s Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) and did not trespass into the airspace of any other country.
No Chinese or Japanese military aircraft were detected at the time of the exercise, Chang said. Lin Te-wang (林德旺), chief of the Air Force’s aviation safety section, confirmed that Ho stopped flying for eight months from May 2016 to January 2017 due to tendonitis.
However, on returning, Ho passed mandatory physical and mental checks and resumed flying in January since which time he has performed well, Lin said.
Chang refused to speculate about the cause of the incident, stressing only that the investigation is ongoing and its conclusions will be made public as soon as it is finished. •
By Joseph Yeh