TwoRepublic of China Air Force (ROCAF) Northrop F-5E Tiger II fighter jets have collided midair off Taiwan’s southeast coast. Both pilots ejected, one pilot died and another is still missing.
The two F-5E jets disappeared from radar at about 3 pm (07:00 GMT) some 2.6km (1.6 miles) off the coast of rural southern Pingtung County, the National Rescue Command Centre said. They were among four F-5Es that took off some 30 minutes earlier for a routine training mission, the center said, adding helicopters and coastguard ships had joined the search.
It added that the fighters, each with one pilot on board, crashed into the sea off the island’s southeastern coast after they apparently collided in midair during a training mission.
One of the pilots was found unconscious in the sea but could not be resuscitated and was pronounced dead at the hospital.
Rescuers were still searching for the remaining pilot.
The official Central News Agency said the air force had now grounded the F-5 fleet that operates from the Chihhang air base, where the aircraft are based.
The US-built F-5E is an older generation fighter with a design that dates back to the 1960s.
It first entered service in Taiwan in the late 1970s and has been mostly been retired from front-line activities, though some are still used for training and as back-up for the main fleet.
The apparent mid-air collision between the two aircraft marks the eighth serious accident involving F-5E fighter jets over the past 20 years, with the most recent being the crash of an F-5E during a training mission off the coast of Taitung, which killed its pilot, Captain Chu Kuan-meng, in October of last year. The following month a much more modern F-16 crashed off Taiwan’s east coast, whose pilot also died.
In January of last year, Taiwan’s top military official was among eight people killed after a helicopter carrying them to visit soldiers crashed in a mountainous area near the capital Taipei.
The incidents have raised concern about both training and maintenance, but also the pressure the air force is under to respond to repeated PLA flights near the island.