President leads moment of silence for pilots killed in crashes
ROC Central News Agency
Taipei, Sept. 14 (CNA) President Ma Ying-jeou observed a moment of silence Wednesday for three pilots who were killed in two military aircraft accidents the day before.
An F-5F twin-seater fighter and RF-5E reconnaissance aircraft crashed separately Tuesday in the mountains of Yilan County in northeastern Taiwan during a nighttime training mission. The remains of the pilots and wreckage from the two planes were found Wednesday by search teams.
Before the start of a weekly meeting of the ruling Kuomintang (KMT), President Ma, who doubles as the party's chairman, led all senior party officials in observing a moment of silence for the three pilots.
As he mourned the death of the three military officers, Ma also canceled his plans to attend the inaugural ceremony of a supporters group, comprising mainly China-based Taiwanese business people, for his re-election bid, a KMT spokesman said.
The search for the pilots and aircraft was suspended at 4 p.m. Wednesday, military officials said.
Some 180 special operations personnel and army engineer corps will be mobilized Thursday to examine the cause of the crashes and dismantle the aircraft wreckage under the guidance of specialists from the Air Force Command, the officials added.
The two planes from the Air Force 401 Wing took off from the air base in Hualien in eastern Taiwan at 7:39 p.m. on a nighttime aerial reconnaissance photography training flight, but disappeared from radar screens at 7:52 p.m.
Piloting the F-5F fighter were Lieutenant Colonel Chang Chien-kuo and Major Wang Hung-hsiang, while Captain Hsiao Wen-min was manning the RF-5E.
Chang, 41, had a flight record of 2,736 hours and Wang, 36, had logged 1,800 hours. The 29-year-old Hsiao was the least experienced pilot of the trio, with 860 hours of flight time.
Military sources said the crashes may have occurred over the 116.4 km-mark of the Suhua Highway that links Yilan's Suao to Hualien County.
The pilots' remains have been sent to a memorial hall at the Hualien armed forces hospital.
Yueh Mu, the Air Force 401 Wing leader, said the three pilots assumedly died on mission. Identification of the remains will be confirmed pending examination by forensic investigators, Yueh said.
It has not yet been decided when and where the funeral of the three officers will take place, he said.
Kuo Hai-wei, the 401 Wing's political warfare department chief, said the Air Force Command has formed a special task force to investigate the cause of the accidents.
The F-5 fleet has suspended all flight missions pending an overall special safety inspection, but other types of military aircraft such as F-16s will remain in operation, Kuo said.
Responding to questions about the F-5Fs' relatively low availability rate, the Air Force Command said it has improved in the past two years and now stands above the legal level set by the Ministry of National Defense (MND).
According ruling Kuomintang Legislator Lin Yu-fang, the MND sets the availability rate at 55 percent.
To the best of his knowledge, said Lin who sits on the Legislative Yuan's Foreign and Defense Affairs Committee, the RF-5E's availability is 71 percent and the F-5F's 58 percent. (By Kelven Huang, Worthy Shen, Liu Chia-tai, Lu Hsin-hui and Sofia Wu) enditem/ pc
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