Two Taiwanese fighter jets crashed into the sea off the island’s southeastern coast on Monday after apparently colliding in mid-air during a training mission, according to initial reports.
The crashes of the F-5E fighters come at a moment of heightened tensions between Taiwan and mainland China, which has increased its threats to try and seize control over the pro-democracy, U.S.-aligned island in recent years.
American forces have sought to bolster Taiwan in the face of rising provocations from Beijing, with the Japan-based USS John S. McCain guided-missile destroyer conducting routine passes through the Taiwan Strait between the island and China.
A report by Reuters on Monday noted that while Taiwan’s air force is well-trained and well-equipped with mostly U.S.-made assets, it is dwarfed by China’s own expanding military muscle.
Monday’s crashes were the third such incident in the past half year, according to the news agency, which noted that Taiwan has been under increasing pressure to intercept Chinese aircraft engaging in near-daily provocations around the island.
Taiwanese air force officials said both of the jets that crashed had a pilot aboard. One pilot was found and airlifted to a medical facility but later died, while the other is missing, the officials said, adding that the F-5 fleet has been temporarily grounded.
Reuters reported that the U.S.-built F-5 fighters first entered service in Taiwan in the 1970s and have mostly been retired from front-line activities, although some are still used for training and as a back-up for the main fleet.