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Search for missing Taiwanese F-16 focuses on oil slick

Spatial disorientation could be cause of incident

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Search teams investigating possible link between oil slick off Hualien and missing F-16.

Search teams investigating possible link between oil slick off Hualien and missing F-16. (CNA photo)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — The search for an F-16 fighter that went missing shortly after takeoff from Hualien Air Force Base the previous evening is now focused on an oil slick, reports said Wednesday (Nov. 18).

The jet, piloted by Colonel Chiang Cheng-chih (蔣正志), 44, took off at 6:05 p.m. Tuesday (Nov. 17) for regular nighttime training, but it vanished from radar screens just two minutes later over a stretch of the Pacific 15 kilometers northeast of the base. The plane reportedly dropped 7,000 feet within 20 seconds, which could be the result of "spatial disorientation," the pilot's inability to accurately gauge his surroundings due to darkness or poor visibility, rather than a mechanical failure, the Air Force said.

Since then, helicopters and Coast Guard vessels have been scouting the area but without success, CNA reported. The only possible sign of the jet so far is a patch of oil on the water that for the time being cannot be explained, military officials said Wednesday evening, 24 hours after the plane’s disappearance.

Chiang's wife, mother, and other relatives have arrived in Hualien and are waiting news at the Air Force base. Officers asked the media not to engage in unfounded speculation while the search continues. The origin of the oil slick remains unknown, as a link to the missing F-16 has yet to be established, a spokesman said.

In the meantime, President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) has ordered all of Taiwan's 142 F-16s to be grounded until the cause of the incident is found. This is the eighth of Taiwan's American-built warplanes to be lost in an accident.