2 Taiwan air force pilots missing after routine mission

AT-3 training jet.
PHOTO: Reuters

TAIPEI, Taiwan -- The Ministry of National Defence (MND) yesterday stated that contact was lost with an R.O.C. Air Force AT-3 training jet flying on a routine mission. The craft was carrying Major Wang Chin-chun and First Lieutenant Huang Chun-jung. As of press time, the condition of the pilots was still unknown.

The locally manufactured jet, with the designation number "0851," took off from Gangshan Air Force Base in Kaohsiung at 11:50 a.m. for a routine instrument flight rule training mission and disappeared from radar screens more than half an hour later at 12:24 p.m. ,near the Mabolasi mountain range in the vicinity of Nantou County's Xinyi Township.

An R.O.C. Air Force spokesman stated that the training craft was not experiencing any abnormalities before it vanished from radar, and nothing out of the ordinary was relayed by pilots Wang and Huang. Defence officials are investigating the cause of the signal loss, but are prioritizing search and rescue efforts. In response to the incident, all AT-3 craft have been grounded and training missions have been suspended until the cause has been ascertained.

Wang, 32, has logged 1,489.30 flying hours, while Huang, 23, has logged 116.45 hours. Wang, a 2006 graduate of the R.O.C. Air Force Academy, was previously a member of an elite air force squad, the Thunder Tigers Aerobatics Team. Huang graduated in 2014 from the R.O.C. Air Force Academy.

Two helicopters were dispatched to the last known coordinates of the craft and performed a visual search. However, due to heavy cloud cover in the area, the S-70 helicopters could not descend to a suitable search altitude and were unsuccessful in locating the AT-3 or the pilots before returning to base due to low fuel. Officials added that they have not received an automatically transmitted mayday call that would also broadcast the location of a craft in an emergency situation. Another helicopter team has been dispatched from Taitung County to continue with the search.

Later in the afternoon, the R.O.C. Army Hua-tung Defence Command mobilized a special forces and rescue team of 60 personnel led by Major General Ku Sheng-wen to enter the search area. Nantou County police and firefighters were also on standby to assist in rescue operations. However, local officials said that due to the rugged terrain of the search area, it would take a week to reach the area on foot.

The AT-3 training craft was manufactured locally by the Aerospace Industrial Development Corporation (AIDC) in conjunction with US-based manufacturer Northrup and was introduced into service in 1984. The craft was later updated from 2001 to 2006 to allow it to operate beyond 2016. Since 1990, it has been involved in 13 incidents, including a fatal collision in October 2014 that claimed the life of Lieutenant Colonel Chuang Pei-yuan.

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