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Signals from missing F-16's flight recorder detected: Taiwan defense minister

Yen De-fa says spatial disorientation not ruled out as cause of incident

The salvage vessel

The salvage vessel (CNA photo)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — The military has picked up eight signals it believes could be from the missing F-16 fighter jet that disappeared two minutes after taking off on Tuesday evening (Nov. 17).

Search efforts will zero in on the source of the earliest signals, emitted 16.7 kilometers offshore, Minister of National Defense Yen De-fa (嚴德發) said on Thursday.

Colonel Chiang Cheng-chih’s (蔣正志) F-16 took off on Tuesday for night training from Hualien at 6:05 p.m. but disappeared from the radar screen at 6:07 p.m. The Air Force said a naval patrol ship picked up suspicious beacon signals at 9:03 a.m. on Wednesday, and these have been treated as a lead in the continued search for the aircraft, according to CNA.

Giving a briefing on the search efforts at the Legislative Yuan on Thursday, Yan pointed out that based on the weather, crew communications, and the aircraft's condition, initial assessments did not rule out the possibility of spatial disorientation as a cause of the incident. Spatial disorientation refers to a pilot’s inability to correctly interpret an aircraft's altitude or airspeed in relation to the earth or other points of reference.

However, Yan said more investigation is needed to determine what happened.

The minister said that a total of 25 flight missions and 34 ships have been dedicated to the non-stop search for the missing aircraft. The military received signals from a flight recorder 16.7 km off the coast on Wednesday and has hired a private company to carry out the salvage operation, he said, adding that a salvage vessel has arrived at Hualien Port.

The F-16's ejection seats and fuselage can also emit signals. Currently, the military has found eight signals coming from different sources, the minister told legislators. He added that the salvage vessel will start with the source of the first signals, at a depth of 900 meters.