US F-16 fighter crashes off South Korea in third loss of Korea-based jet in a year

A United States Air Force F-16 fighter jet crashed after suffering an in-flight emergency off the coast of South Korea Wednesday, in the third crash of one of the US military’s Korea-based warplanes in less than a year.

The incident occurred during a training mission over the waters west of the Korean Peninsula around 8:41 a.m. local time, according to a statement from Kunsan Air Base, about 110 miles (180 kilometers) south of the capital Seoul.

The pilot, assigned to the 8th Fighter Wing, ejected safely and was recovered about 50 minutes after the crash, the Air Force statement said. The pilot was conscious and taken to a medical facility for assessment, the base said.

“We are very thankful to the Republic of Korea rescue forces and all of our teammates who made the swift recovery of our pilot possible,” said Col. Matthew Gaetke, 8th Fighter Wing commander, in a statement. “Now we will shift our focus to search and recovery of the aircraft.”

The cause of the in-flight emergency is under investigation, the base said.

Wednesday’s crash was the third of a South Korea-based F-16 in less than a year, though there are no indications they are related.

An F-16 Fighting Falcon assigned to the 80th Fighter Squadron takes off during Beverly Pack 23-3 at Kunsan Air Base, Republic of Korea, September 18, 2023.

An F-16 Fighting Falcon assigned to the 80th Fighter Squadron takes off from Kunsan Air Base, South Korea, on September 18, 2023. Staff Sgt. Samuel Earick/U.S. Air Force

In December, an F-16 from Kunsan crashed off the west coast of the peninsula during training.

The pilot ejected and was rescued by South Korean maritime forces, the 8th Fighter Wing said at the time, adding that no more information on that crash would be released until an investigation was concluded.

In May 2023, an F-16 crashed into an agricultural area near Osan Air Base, south of Seoul, during training. The pilot of that aircraft also ejected safely, and the case was referred to investigation.

The F-16 is the workhorse of US Air Force fighters, with 738 of the single-engine jets in the fleet, according to Flight Global’s “World Air Forces 2024.” The Air Force says F-16s make up about half of its fighter jet inventory.

The service loses between three and four units of the aircraft each year to mishaps worldwide, according to statistics from the Air Force Safety Center, last provided after fiscal year 2021.

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