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Tue, Jan 04, 2000 - Page 2 News List

Air Force commander apologizes for recent crashes

By Brian Hsu  /  STAFF REPORTER

Air Force Commander-in-Chief General Chen Chao-ming (陳肇敏) yesterday apologized to the public for a series of crashes of second-generation fighter planes -- US-made F-16's and French Mirage 2000-5's -- that have occurred during his two-year tenure as the head of Taiwan's air force.

The apology came nearly three weeks after the crash of a single-seat Mirage fighter plane on Dec. 14 off eastern Hualien, the most recent mishap to have hit the service since 1998.

So far, a total of six second-generation fighter planes have crashed in situations involving either human factors or other yet to be determined reasons, killing six pilots. These crashes include four F-16s and two Mirages.

Chen made the apology as members of the Legislative Yuan's defense committee visited Air Force General Headquarters to gain a better understanding of the service's investigations into the crashes, as well as its plans to improve the flight safety of both the aircraft and their pilots.

Vice Defense Minister Wu Shih-wen (伍世文), accompanying the lawmakers, said Minister of National Defense Tang Fei (唐飛) has instructed the air force leadership to improve flight safety through an overall check of its operational and administration systems.

"Starting last July, China's fighter planes have crossed the middle line of the Taiwan Strait several times. This puts extra pressure on the air force. So from then onwards, the air force has had to speed up its combat preparations, while maintaining routine operations," Wu said.

"It is a great challenge to the air force. Aside from that, however, the air force also has to face another great challenge -- that of bringing into operation at the same time four types of new planes, including F-16s, Mirages, domestically-built IDFs and E-2Ts," he said.

To discover problems which might endanger flight safety, Wu said, Minister Tang ordered a task force to be established, led by Armed Service University president General Hsiao Yin-chou (夏瀛洲).

"Over three to four months, members of the task force will visit each air base to understand problems which grass-roots personnel are faced with and to find the right solutions," said Wu.

KMT lawmaker Wang Tien-ging (王天競) said the military should not use the often repeated excuse about the difficulty of bringing four types of new aircraft into operation every time one of the planes crashes.

"If we [lawmakers] blame the air force too much, we will be criticized for further bringing down the morale of the air force. But can we keep ourselves from being angry as we see one plane after another crash?" Wang asked.

There have been no breakthroughs yet in the actual investigations into last December's Mirage crash, which are still working on the suspicion that the plane might have crashed due to highly complicated maneuvers made by the pilot, sources said.

However, investigators reported findings that suggest the pilot may have been looking down at his radar screen for some targets which he had missed, unaware that he was piloting the plane into the sea. Investigators have also speculated the pilot became disoriented by darkness during the night training mission and accidentally flew into the ocean.

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