TAIPEI (Reuters) -Taiwan’s air force grounded its fleet of Mirage 2000 fighter jets on Monday after one crashed into the sea, the second combat aircraft loss in the space of three months though this time the pilot was rescued.
The air force said the French-built aircraft took off just after 10 a.m. (0200 GMT) on a training mission from the Chihhang air base in the southeastern city of Taitung and reported it had to return after a mechanical problem.
The pilot ejected over the sea south of the air base and was rescued safe and in good condition by helicopter, it added.
Air force Inspector-General Liu Hui-chien told reporters the Mirage fleet would be grounded while an investigation was carried out.
Taiwan received its first of 60 Mirage jets in 1997, though they have been upgraded several times since then. Six have since been lost in accidents.
In January, the air force suspended combat training for its much larger F-16 fleet after a recently upgraded model of the fighter jet crashed into the sea, killing the pilot.
Last year, two F-5E fighters, which first entered service in Taiwan in the 1970s, crashed into the sea after they apparently collided in mid-air during a training mission, also from the Chihhang air base.
In late 2020, an F-16 vanished shortly after taking off from the Hualien air base on Taiwan’s east coast on a routine training mission.
While Taiwan’s air force is well trained, it has been repeatedly scrambling to see off Chinese military aircraft intruding in its air defence zone in the past two years, though the accidents have not been linked in any way to these intercept activities.
China, which claims the democratic island as its own, has been routinely sending aircraft into Taiwan’s air defence zone, mostly in an area around the Taiwan-controlled Pratas Islands but sometimes also into the airspace between Taiwan and the Philippines.
(Reporting by Ben Blanchard and Yimou Lee; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan and Raissa Kasolowsky)