Four dead in Taiwan fighter jet crash

May 11, 2007

AN ageing Taiwan fighter jet crashed on Friday, May 11, during preparation for an exercise aimed at countering an attack by China, killing two Taiwanese pilots and two visiting Singaporean soldiers on the ground, officials said.

Nine Singaporean servicemen were injured, two seriously, when the two-seater F-5F jet crashed into a storeroom in a military base, Singapore's Ministry of Defence said in a statement.

"Two SAF (Singapore Armed Forces) servicemen are injured and are being treated in hospital. Seven others have minor injuries. Two bodies have been found and their identities are being verified," the ministry said.

The base was located in Hukou, Hsinchu County, which is about 50 km (30 miles) south of the capital Taipei.

Due to a lack of adequate space on the small island state for large-scale exercises, Singaporean troops have been coming to train in Taiwan as part of a cooperative agreement -- code-named Operation Starlight -- since 1975.

No reason for the crash had yet been determined, although local media highlighted the age of the F-5F fleet, which has been in service since the 1970s, as a possible factor.

Defence Minister Lee Jye told reporters that the jet, which crashed while attempting to pull out of a low-level attack run, could still be used, but the military was planning to replace them.

"Despite being old, the F-5Fs can still be used if they adequately meet standards. In the future we are planning to replace them with F-16C/D fighters," said Lee.

Taiwan has requested around 60 F-16C/D fighters from the United States, but long delays by parliament in passing a budget for a prior arms package has strained ties and Washington has declined to approve the sale.

The Ministry of Defence has grounded all F-5F fighters, pending the outcome of an investigation into the accident.

The crash comes as Taiwan's military prepares to hold the island's annual Han Kuang live fire drills aimed at repelling an attack from China next week.

Taiwan's Lee said the exercise would be unaffected by the accident.

China claims Taiwan as part of its own territory and has threatened war if the island was ever to declare formal independence.

The Singaporean soldiers were not taking part in the exercises, the Taiwan defence ministry said.

(Additional reporting by Koh Gui Qing in Singapore)