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Taiwan air force Mirage fighter lost, pilot ejects safely

TAIPEI (AP):  Taiwan's air force said one of its French-made Mirage 2000 fighter jets appears to have been lost off the island's east coast, but the pilot has been rescued after parachuting to safety.

The air force said Lieutenant Colonel Huang Chung-kai ejected at around 11:30 a.m. (0330 GMT) Monday after reporting mechanical trouble.

Huang had taken off about one hour earlier from Taitung Air Base on a routine training mission, the air force said. He was picked up by a rescue helicopter, it said.

Taiwan's air force has suffered from aging equipment and difficulties purchasing replacements amid Chinese efforts to isolate the island it considers its own territory to be annexed by force if necessary.

It operates 55 Mirage 2000s purchased in the 1990s amid Chinese anger, along with 140 U.S. F-16s and 129 homemade IDF fighters.

Along with the usual problems caused by age, Taiwan's fighters have suffered additional wear and tear from frequently scrambling to meet Chinese military aircraft that routinely cross into Taiwan's air defence identification zone. Some military observers believe that may be part of a deliberate Chinese strategy to degrade Taiwan's air defences over time.

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