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U.S. Fighter Jet Crashes off South Korea’s Coast, Again

An F-16 takes off at Kunsan Air Base, South Korea, Jan. 19, 2024. Credit - Staff Sgt. Samuel Earick—U.S. Air Force

Amid an “in-flight emergency,” a U.S. F-16 fighter jet crashed in waters off South Korea’s west coast Wednesday morning, the U.S. Air Force said in a statement, adding that the pilot had “ejected safely” and was transported conscious to a medical facility for assessment.

“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,” Matthew C. Gaetke, commander of the 8th Fighter Wing, said in the statement. The 8th Fighter Wing, which was the first overseas unit to receive the F-16 platform in 1981, operates from Kunsan Air Base, about 115 miles south of Seoul.

“Now we will shift our focus to search and recovery of the aircraft,” Gaetke said. Information on the cause of the emergency would not be made available until investigation has concluded, the statement said.

This is the second time in less than two months that the U.S. Air Force has experienced incidents with its F-16s. In December, another F-16 fighter jet from the 8th Fighter Wing crashed into the Yellow Sea off South Korea’s southeastern coast, with the pilot also having ejected safely before the crash. At the time, Gaetke ordered a two-day pause on flights for investigation and recovery of the aircraft. It’s unclear if that investigation has concluded.

Last May, another F-16 pilot ejected safely before the aircraft crashed into farmland near Osan Air Base.

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Wednesday’s accident also comes months after a U.S. Osprey aircraft crashed off Japan’s coast in November, killing all eight men on board. Ospreys remain grounded since the crash, and Congress has launched an oversight investigation into the program.

Jan. 20 marked the 50th anniversary of the first F-16 flight. Since 1974, the aircraft has been used in “every major American conflict,” including to “maintain peace on the Korean Peninsula,” according to the 8th Fighter Wing.

“The fight is evolving, the threat is evolving, and fortunately, so is the F-16,” Gaetke said earlier this month.

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