Mechanical malfunction likely behind Mirage-2000 crash: Air Force

03/14/2022 08:47 PM
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A Mirage-2000 fighter jet. CNA file photo
A Mirage-2000 fighter jet. CNA file photo

Taipei, March 14 (CNA) Initial indications are that a mechanical malfunction likely caused the crash of a Mirage-2000 fighter jet off the coast of southeastern Taiwan on Monday, Taiwan's Air Force said, as the search for the jet continued.

Air Force Chief Inspector Major General Liu Hui-chien (柳惠千) said at a press briefing that based on information from the pilot, who ejected to safety, the jet's engine was not generating enough power to operate the aircraft safely.

Exactly what caused the problem and where it specifically occurred, however, cannot be determined until after the jet's wreckage has been recovered and a further investigation has been conducted, Liu said.

According to Liu, the jet's sole pilot, Lieutenant Colonel Huang Chung-kai (黃重凱), ejected from the aircraft when he noticed the lack of power and landed in the ocean before being rescued and eventually taken to Taitung MacKay Memorial Hospital.

Doctors there said Huang was in good health despite the incident, but they planned to keep him under observation for another 48 hours as a precaution against Huang developing a possible lung infection after he inhaled some sea water while waiting to be rescued at sea.

The Mirage 2000-5 fighter, serial number 2017, took off from eastern Taitung Air Base on 10:08 a.m. for a routine training session.

About an hour after taking off, however, the 38-year-old pilot reported to the base at 11:05 a.m. that his jet was experiencing a "mechanical malfunction," and he safely ejected at 11:26 a.m. around 10 nautical miles south of the Taitung Air Base.

He was later picked up at sea off the coast of Taitung County at 12:06 p.m. by a UH-60M helicopter, which landed at the base at 12:13 p.m. before Huang was sent to the hospital.

Liu praised Huang for making the right call to eject, which was made after some preparation and at no lower than 2,000 feet as recommended, which he said prevented Huang from suffering major injuries.

According to the Air Force, the date of manufacture for the crashed fighter was Feb. 26, 1998. It last cleared routine inspections on Sept. 29, 2021.

Meanwhile, Huang had logged 1,434 flying hours, with 1,125 hours clocked flying the Mirage 2000-5 model.

According to Liu, the Air Force has grounded its Mirage 2000-5 fleet for safety inspections until they are cleared to take to the sky again, he said.

The Air Force will use domestically built Indigenous Defense Fighters (IDFs) and U.S-made F-16s to temporarily take over the Mirage 2000-5 fleet's duties in responding to incursions into Taiwan's Air Defense Identification Zone by Chinese military aircraft, Liu said.

To lessen the burden of the IDFs and F-16s while the Mirage 2000-5 fleet is down, the Air Force will reduce training sessions for those two types of aircraft.

Monday's incident was the eighth involving Taiwan's Mirage 2000-5s since they began service in the nation's Air Force in 1997.

Among those incidents were six crashes that left five pilots dead.

The most recent one occurred in November 2017 when a Mirage 2000 piloted by Captain Ho Tzu-yu (何子雨) went missing at sea off the coast of Keelung in northeastern Taiwan.

Ho's body has never being found, and he was legally declared dead six months later. The jet's black box was retrieved two years later.

Taiwan now has 54 Mirage 2000-5s left.

(By Matt Yu and Joseph Yeh)

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