The search for a missing Mirage 2000 jet and its pilot continued for a second day yesterday, as the rescue team received some signals that might be coming from a life-saving equipment, the air force said.
It also uncovered a communication record between the pilot, Captain Ho Tzu-yu (何子雨), and other pilots during an investigation, and the data has been referred to the Aviation Safety Council for analysis, it added, but did not say what the findings suggest.
Air Force Deputy Commander Lieutenant General Chang Che-ping (張哲平) said that the aircraft, part of the Hsinchu-based 499th Tactical Fighter Wing, took off at about 6:09pm for a regular nighttime training exercise and flew toward waters off the coast of northeast Taiwan.
Photo: Lin Cheng-kung, Taipei Times
It lost contact with the control tower at 6:43pm about 60 nautical miles (111km) north of Pengjia Islet (彭佳嶼), Chang said at a special media briefing on the incident.
The fighter jet, serial number 2040, had just one pilot.
Ho graduated from the Air Force Academy in 2013 and had 227 flying hours with the Mirage-2000, the air force said.
The rescue mission has been underway since the plane was reported missing, with the air force, navy and Coast Guard Administration sending aircraft and vessels in an attempt to locate the missing pilot and aircraft, but to no avail, Chang said.
Ho’s jet was flying at about 2,500 feet (762m) at a speed of less than 300 nautical miles per hour (555.6kph) before its signal disappeared from the radar, Chang said.
Ho’s communication with the control tower was normal up to that point, he said, adding that so far there is no indication he ejected from the aircraft.
In such situations a pilot’s life vest would normally send out radio signal to enable rapid retrieval, but the military has been unable to locate a signal, Chang said.
“The search will continue until we find the fighter jet and its pilot,” he added.
The rescue team is conducting a grid search of the area where the plane was last located, which is time consuming, Chang said.
Weather conditions on Tuesday night made it difficult for the rescue team. The weather forecast in the search area was expected to stabilize yesterday, which is likely to facilitate the search, Chang said.
The air force has temporarily grounded all of its Mirage 2000s aircraft until further notice, he added.
The incident is the fifth involving a Mirage 2000 aircraft among the 60 that the air force bought from France in the late 1990s.
In the previous four mishaps, four pilots were killed in two crashes, and four pilots ejected to safety in the other two accidents.
The military is to send all related information to an ad hoc investigative committee established to probe the cause of the incident, Chang said, adding that the information is to be shared with the Aviation Safety Council, the nation’s aviation accident investigation authority.
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.
All four fighters were flying within Taiwan’s air defense identification zone and did not trespass into the airspace of any other country, Chang said.
No Chinese or Japanese military aircraft were detected at the time of the exercise, Chang said.
Ho stopped flying for eight months from May last year to January due to tendinitis, air force aviation safety section chief Lin Te-wang (林德旺) said.
However, Ho passed mandatory physical and mental checks, and has performed well since returning to flying, Lin said.
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