January 21, 2016 / 7:40 PM / 4 years ago

Taiwanese military pilot presumed dead in F-16 crash in Arizona

PHOENIX (Reuters) - A Taiwanese student pilot stationed at a U.S. Air Force base was presumed killed in the crash of his F-16 fighter jet on Thursday during routine air-to-air combat training maneuvers over northwestern Arizona, U.S. military officials said.

The pilot was believed to have died when his Fighting Falcon aircraft, a Taiwanese government-owned plane, went down shortly before 9 a.m. near the town of Bagdad, about 100 miles (160 km) northwest of Phoenix, the officials said.

The student aviator, whose name was not immediately released, was among a group of fighter pilots from allied foreign governments assigned for training to Luke Air Force Base, just west of Phoenix, according to Brigadier General Scott Pleus, the base commander.

“At this point, all indications lead me to believe that the pilot did not survive the accident,” Pleus told reporters at a news conference.

The plane carried no live ordnance, officials said.

Pleus said the Taiwanese aviator had been performing maneuvers under the guidance of an instructor pilot who was flying another aircraft when the accident occurred. The wreckage was found four hours later a few miles off a major road.

The Taiwanese pilot had been stationed at the Arizona installation for about six months, with experience flying F-16s and performing similar combat training, the general said.

The cause of the crash was under investigation.

The $25 million jet was assigned to the 56th Fighter Wing at Luke Air Force Base, which is responsible for training on F-16 and F-35 fighters. The accident marked the third crash of an F-16 from the base since 2013.

The previous such incident was in November, when a jet crashed in New Mexico during a routine training mission. The pilot managed to eject safely.

Reporting by David Schwartz in Phoenix; Additional reporting by Idrees Ali in Washington; Editing by Steve Gorman and Peter Cooney

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