TAIPEI, Taiwan (AP) — A Taiwanese fighter jet has gone missing while flying above the East China Sea north of Taiwan during a routine training exercise, the air force said Wednesday.
The Mirage-2000 disappeared from radar screens just over a half-hour after taking off Tuesday evening from an air base in Hsinchu, south of the capital, Taipei, according to an air force statement.
Navy and coast guard ships and more than a dozen aircraft have been dispatched to search the area but with no result as of Wednesday afternoon, the air force said. It said the pilot, Ho Tzu-yu, joined the air force more than a decade ago and had 227 hours of flight time in Mirages.
Air Force Deputy Commander Lt. Gen. Chang Che-ping told reporters there had been no abnormal transmissions from Ho's plane before it dropped off the radar screen at 6:43 p.m. Tuesday while flying at an altitude of 1,585 meters (5,200 feet). He said there was no indication Ho had ejected.
"The military will continue searching day and night until the person is safely rescued. There is no so-called 'golden 72-hour' limit," Chang said, referring to the time frame after which finding a pilot alive becomes increasingly unlikely.
Taiwan purchased 60 Mirage-2000 jets from France during the 1990s, despite stiff opposition from China, which claims the island as its own territory and threatens to use military force to bring it under its control.
The planes have experienced mechanical problems in the past due to the harsh environment and high usage rates, but those problems were believed to have been largely overcome through technical upgrades.
Taiwan's air force relies heavily on the Mirages, along with U.S. F-16 Fighting Falcons and homemade IDF fighters. Obstruction by Beijing has made purchases of foreign military hardware extremely difficult and Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen this year announced a $2.1 billion investment in the production of air force jet trainers to be designed and manufactured on the island as part of a push to revive the domestic defense industry.