Taipei – The Taiwanese Air Force announced Wednesday that it has nailed its Mirage to the ground, as it is looking for a pilot missing during training at the controls of the French fighter plane.
Captain Ho Tzu-yu’s Mirage-2000 had disappeared from radar on Tuesday at 18:43 (10:43 GMT) off the north-east of the island, 34 minutes after take-off, the army said.
The authorities mobilized 17 military aircraft and 10 navy ships to track him down. But the research is not yet fruitful.
“We hope that Ho will be rescued soon,”said General Chang Che-ping, deputy commander of the Air Force, adding that all Taiwanese Mirage were kept on the ground.
General Chang described Mr. Ho as an”excellent pilot”, adding that there were no signs of problems or irregularities after taking off from a base near the town of Hsinchu in the northwestern part of the country.
The high-ranking officer also swept away the idea that the pilot could deliberately fly at low altitude to escape the radars and deflect to the People’s Republic.
“He wasn’t alone. They were flying in formation. It is impossible that he could not have defected by flying at low altitude” undetected, said General Chang.
Taiwan had purchased in 1992 from the French aircraft manufacturer Dassault 60 Mirage 2000-5, the last of which was delivered in 2001.
Four Mirage accidents occurred in Taiwan between 1999 and 2013, killing three pilots.
In 2012, the Taiwanese Air Force temporarily grounded its entire Mirage fleet after a similar aircraft crashed in France, causing the death of its Taiwanese pilot.
The 1992 contract had provoked the rage of Beijing, which still regards the island as a part of its territory destined to return to its borders, even though Taiwan has been following its own destiny since 1949.