Taiwan's Air Force grounds F-5s pending crash probe

10/29/2020 05:31 PM
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A F-5E fighter jet / CNA file photo
A F-5E fighter jet / CNA file photo

Taipei, Oct. 29 (CNA) Taiwan's Air Force on Thursday temporarily suspended the operation of all its F-5 fighter jets following an incident off Taiwan's east coast earlier the same day that resulted in the death of a pilot.

An F-5E fighter jet, tail number 5261, crashed into the sea north of Chihhang Air Base in eastern Taiwan less than two minutes after taking off at 7:29 a.m., the Ministry of National Defense (MND) said in a press release.

Its pilot, identified as Chu Kuan-meng (朱冠甍), 29, ejected from the plane but succumbed to his injuries at 9:27 a.m., according to the ministry.

At a press conference, Air Force Chief of Staff Huang Chih-wei (黃志偉) said the ill-fated F-5E was one of two F-5Es engaged in "basic combat and defense training" maneuvers at the time.

Huang announced that Air Force chief Hsiung Hou-chi (熊厚基) led a team to the base this morning to investigate the incident and all units of F-5s are grounded pending inspection and investigation results.

Prior to the crash, the control tower received a communication from the pilot indicating the aircraft's right engine had failed, Huang said.

Chu Kuan-meng (朱冠甍, center) / CNA file photo
Chu Kuan-meng (朱冠甍, center) / CNA file photo

A UH-60M Black Hawk helicopter deployed by the Air Force recovered the pilot at 8:17 a.m., Huang said.

He was airlifted back to base at 8:44 a.m. and immediately taken to Taitung Mackay Memorial Hospital, Huang said.

An F5-E has two engines. Although losing one will not necessarily result in a crash, it does impact the aircraft's maneuverability, he explained.

Huang added that a successful ejection from an aircraft depends on the posture in which the pilot falls, the angle and speed of the aircraft, as well as the surface tension in the parachute canopy.

The weather at that time was good for flying, he noted.

Taiwan began to co-manufacture F-5s with US-based Northrop Corporation in 1973. However, following the introduction of F-16s, Mirage 2000-5s and F-CK-1s in the 1990s, the F-5E and its twin-seated variant, the F-5F, were either withdrawn from service or became second line fighters.

According to MND data, the ill-fated aircraft was manufactured in 1980 and had an accumulated flying time of 6,260 hours.

The most recent regular maintenance work on the F-5E took place from September to December 2019 and the aircraft had flown 266 hours since then, the ministry said.

Meanwhile, according to data compiled by CNA, there have been five fatal accidents involving F-5E/Fs since 2006 -- in which one F-5E and four F-5Fs crashed, killing nine pilots.

Another accident involving an F-5F occurred in 2001, as a result of which the pilot and co-pilot are still officially listed as missing.

(By Tyson Lu, Matt Yu and Emerson Lim)

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