TAIPEI, Taiwan – A Taiwanese fighter jet has gone missing while flying above the East China Sea north of Taiwan during a routine patrol, the air force said Wednesday.
The Mirage-2000 disappeared from radar screens just over a half-hour after taking off Tuesday evening from an air base in Hsinchu, south of the capital, Taipei, according to an air force statement.
China's official Xinhua News Agency said navy ships and more than a dozen aircraft have been dispatched to search the area but with no result as of midday Wednesday. It said the pilot, Ko Tse-yu, joined the air force more than a decade ago and had 227 hours of flight time in Mirages.
Taiwan purchased 60 Mirage-2000 jets from France during the 1990s, despite stiff opposition from China, which claims the island as its own territory and threatens to use military force to bring it under its control.
The planes have experienced mechanical problems in the past due to the harsh environment and high usage rates, but those problems were believed to have been largely overcome through technical upgrades.
Taiwan's air force relies heavily on the Mirages, along with U.S. F-16 Fighting Falcons and homemade IDF fighters. Obstruction by Beijing has made purchases of foreign military hardware extremely difficult and Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen this year announced a $2.1 billion investment in the production of air force jet trainers to be designed and manufactured on the island as part of a push to revive the domestic defense industry.