Seoul, South Korea – A U.S. Air Force F-16 fighter jet plunged into the waters off South Korea’s coast on Wednesday, marking the third such incident involving a Korea-based U.S. warplane in the past year. The pilot, thankfully, ejected safely and was recovered after the mid-morning crash.
The incident occurred during a routine training mission over the Yellow Sea, west of the Korean peninsula, according to a statement released by Kunsan Air Base, located roughly 180 kilometers south of Seoul. The statement confirms that the pilot assigned to the 8th Fighter Wing ejected safely and was rescued approximately 50 minutes later. They were reported to be conscious and transferred to a nearby medical facility for evaluation.
“We express our sincere gratitude to the Republic of Korea rescue forces and all our colleagues who facilitated the swift recovery of our pilot,” stated Colonel Matthew Gaetke, commander of the 8th Fighter Wing. “Our immediate focus now shifts to recovering the aircraft.”
The cause of the in-flight emergency that triggered the crash remains under investigation. This incident highlights the third F-16 loss involving a South Korea-based aircraft within the past year, although officials have emphasized that no link has been established between these events.
- In December 2023, another F-16 stationed at Kunsan Air Base crashed off the peninsula’s west coast during a training exercise. The pilot ejected safely and was rescued by South Korean maritime forces. No further details concerning the incident were released pending the investigation’s conclusion.
- Prior to that, in May 2023, an F-16 assigned to Osan Air Base, south of Seoul, plummeted into farmland during a training mission. The pilot successfully ejected, and the event was subjected to a thorough investigation.
The F-16 constitutes the backbone of the U.S. Air Force’s fighter fleet, accounting for 738 operational single-engine jets as of 2024, according to Flight Global’s “World Air Forces” publication. F-16s comprise roughly half of the Air Force’s fighter jet inventory.
Based on historical data from the Air Force Safety Center, the service typically loses between three and four F-16s annually to mishaps worldwide. The most recent statistics available pertain to fiscal year 2021.