A U.S. Air Force pilot safely ejected on Monday before his F-16 fighter jet crashed into the sea off South Korea’s southwestern coast, U.S. and South Korean military officials said.
The unidentified pilot was recovered by South Korean maritime forces and was “awake and in stable condition,” the U.S. Air Force’s 8th Fighter Wing said in a statement. It said the pilot was being returned to Kunsan Air Base near the southwestern port city of Gunsan, where he would be evaluated further.
The pilot took off from the air base, used jointly by the U.S. and South Korean air forces, on a routine training flight and was forced to eject from the aircraft after experiencing an unspecified in-flight emergency.
The 8th Fighter Wing, which is composed of two F-16 squadrons, said the cause of the in-flight emergency is being investigated.
“We are grateful for the safe recovery of our airman by our [South Korean] allies and that the pilot is in good condition,” Col. Matthew Gaetke, the 8th Fighter Wing commander, said in a statement.
The crash marks the second public U.S. F-16 mishap in South Korea this year. In May, a pilot assigned to the 8th Fighter Wing safely ejected when their Fighting Falcon went down in an agricultural area outside Osan Air Base near Pyeongtaek, south of the capital city of Seoul.
The jet was largely destroyed, the Yonhap News Agency in Korea reported.
On average, about three American F-16s are totaled and one person is killed in Fighting Falcon accidents each year, according to Air Force Safety Center data.
The service owns more than 800 F-16C/D airframes, which have flown since the 1980s. Each jet cost $19 million in 1998 dollars, the Air Force said, or more than $30 million now.
The latest F-16 crash comes about two weeks after a U.S. Air Force Osprey aircraft crashed off southern Japan during a Nov. 29 training mission, killing all eight people on board.
Air Force Times Editor Rachel S. Cohen contributed to this story.