Taiwanese F-16 pilot killed in US

TAIPEI, Taiwan - A Taiwanese pilot was killed on Thursday in the US when his F-16 fighter jet crashed during a training flight near a US air base in the state of Arizona, the R.O.C. Air Force has said.

The R.O.C. Air Force Command said Maj. Kao Ting-cheng was conducting regular training when his serial number 93-0711 F-16 fighter attached to the Luke Air Force Base near Phoenix, Arizona went down for unknown reasons around 9 a.m. on Thursday.

The Air Force has arranged for Kao's family members in Taiwan to fly to the US in the aftermath of the tragic incident, it noted.

The Air Force is also sending representatives to the Luke Air Force Base to assist investigations into the crash, it added.

Kao was a graduate of the R.O.C. Air Force Academy in 2007, who had logged 865 flying hours. He was training at the US base as part of a Taiwan-U.S military co-operation project.

The Air Force's comment came after US media reports revealed the crash occurred at about 8:45 a.m. in rugged terrain about 10 miles southwest of Bagdad, Yavapai County, Arizona.

Luke Air Base officials said the Taiwanese pilot was flying solo and was engaged in air-to-air combat training with an instructor before the crash.

Brig. Gen. Scott Pleus, commander of the 56th Fighter Wing at Luke, said the pilot had been on a training programme for the past six months at Luke, which is a major pilot-training base for the US Air Force and foreign military services, according to US media reports.

The Chinese-language Apple Daily quoted unidentified military sources as saying that Kao, 31, was a Miaoli native. After graduating from the academy, he was assigned to the Air Force's Chiayi-based 455th Tactical Fighter Wing.

He was chosen to join the F-16 training programme due to his excellent performance in the fighter wing and his fluent English-language ability, sources said. His wife and two children moved to the US with him for the training programme.

US Works Closely with Air Force on Crash Probe

Meanwhile, the US' top envoy to Taiwan, Kin Moy, issued a statement in the wake of the tragedy.

"I would like to express that our thoughts and prayers are with the family and friends of the pilot who was involved in the plane crash in Arizona," said Moy, director of the American Institute in Taiwan (AIT), which represents US interests in Taiwan in the absence of official ties.

"We are monitoring the situation. AIT is in close coordination with the Ministry of National Defence and the Taiwan Air Force. AIT stands ready to offer assistance," he noted.

The F-16 training programme for Taiwanese pilots has been conducted at Luke Air Force Base for over a decade since the US approved the sale of 150 F-16A/B fighter jets to Taiwan in the 1990s.

According to the AIT, Taiwan maintains an F-16 training unit at Luke Air Force Base in Arizona so that Taiwanese pilots can maintain and improve their proficiency with the F-16 aircraft.

This training supports the Taiwan Relations Act, under which the US makes defence equipment and services available to Taiwan to enable Taiwan to maintain a sufficient self-defence capability, the AIT said.