Taiwan grounds all Mirage jets after pilot goes missing during exercise

Air force searches for officer after his plane disappears from the radar

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 08 November, 2017, 1:28pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 08 November, 2017, 4:56pm

Taiwan’s air force said on Wednesday it has grounded all its Mirage jets after a pilot went missing during a training exercise.

The single-seat Mirage-2000 flown by Captain Ho Tzu-yu disappeared from the radar 34 minutes after take-off on Tuesday evening off the northeast coast of the island, according to the air force.

Authorities dispatched 17 military planes as well as 10 naval and coastguard vessels to conduct a search but there had been no sighting of the missing plane, it said.

“We hope Ho can be safely rescued soon,” said Lieutenant General Chang Che-ping, the air force’s deputy chief.

All Mirage jets had been grounded since the incident, Chang said.

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Chang described Ho as an excellent pilot and said there was no sign of any problems or irregularities after he took off from a base near the northwestern city of Hsinchu.

Ho graduated from the Air Force Academy in 2013 and had logged around 227 hours in the French-made Mirage-2000, the air force said.

Chang declined to comment on reports that Ho’s health may have been a factor in the disappearance, saying an investigation into the cause of the incident was still under way.

He confirmed that Ho had taken time off work in 2015 on health grounds but declined to elaborate.

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Taiwan bought 60 Mirage 2000-5 jets from France in a 1992 arms deal that upset China.

The defeated Kuomintang forces made Taiwan their base at the end of the civil war in 1949 but Beijing claims sovereignty over the island and is fiercely opposed to Taiwan developing its military strength.

There were five accidents involving Mirage fighters in Taiwan between 1999 and 2013, in which three pilots were killed.

In 2012, Taiwan temporarily grounded all its Mirage jets after one of its pilots died during a training mission in France.