Search continues in Taiwan for training jet and 2 pilots

TAIPEI, Taiwan -- Attempts to locate the R.O.C. Air Force AT-3 training jet and its two pilots that went missing on Tuesday in the mountainous region of Nantou County remained fruitless, as the Air Force deployed helicopters and ground-level search teams to the area, yesterday.

Four helicopters from the Air Force's 455th Tactical Fighter Wing from the Chiayi Airbase in Southern Taiwan were dispatched to the last known location of the craft manned by Major Wang Chin-chun and First Lieutenant Huang Chun-jung, Wednesday morning. Although cloud cover was minimal compared to weather conditions that hampered Tuesday's initial search, search crews aboard the helicopters were not able to visually locate the craft or its crew.

Another four helicopters were sent in the afternoon to the same area, but were forced to cut short their search around 3pm due to increased cloud cover. The R.O.C. Army Hua-tung Defence Command confirmed that 15 craft, including S-70C helicopters as well as an E-2K Hawkeye (an early warning and control aircraft) were deployed from Chiayi, Pintung and Hualien to participate in the ongoing search.

Plans to deploy drones (UAV, unmanned aerial vehicle) developed by the National Chung-Shan Institute of Science and Technology were also called off due to rainfall that could hamper guidance equipment.

The base has also assembled a search party to search the area by foot. Led by Colonel Yuan Kwang-hwa, the team of 10 boarded helicopters and were deployed two to three kilometers south of the last known area of the jet and have established a base camp. They join another team making its way through a forest passageway in Hualien's Rueisuei led by Major-General Ku Sheng-wen.

Airbase officials said that the mountainous terrain and the dense forest cover will make locating the wreckage difficult. They stated that a previous search for an AT-3 that went down in the mountainous regions of Taitung took seven days. Two pilots were killed in that training accident.

Added to difficulties in locating the craft, Air Force control towers did not receive a distress signal from the URT33 beacon (similar to the "black box" installed on civilian airliners) within the AT-3 that would have provided precise coordinates.

Despite a defence official's statement that AT-3s were not especially prone to incidents, 13 separate accidents involving the locally developed training craft have led to nine deaths since 1990.

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