F-16 Pilot Ejects Before Fighter Crashes off South Korea

A U.S. F-16 pilot safely ejected from the fighter after an in-flight emergency over South Korea’s southwestern coast on Jan. 31. The aircraft then crashed into the West Sea, marking the third USAF F-16 crash in the country within nine months.

The unidentified pilot was recovered safely within an hour of the crash and transported to a local medical facility for an assessment, the 8th Fighter Wing of Kunsan Air Base said a release. The cause of the in-flight emergency is currently unknown.

The pilot was rescued by the Korean Air Force and Coast Guard members, according to South Korea’s Yonhap Agency. Two ROK Air Force Black Hawk (HH-60) helicopters were dispatched immediately following the crash, and the pilot was secured with a rope from the sea before being airlifted with the helicopter.

This latest incident follows on two F-16 crashes in South Korea last year. The first incident occurred on May 6, 2023 when a jet conducting a routine sortie experienced an issue, leading the pilot to eject near Osan Air Base. Then on Dec. 11, another fighter crashed off the coast where the pilot ejected from the aircraft and was reported to be in a stable condition by the 8th FW.

The Air Force has yet to release accident investigation reports into what caused these crashes.

The Jan. 31 crash also comes just a few months after the Nov. 29 CV-22 Osprey crash off the southern Japan coast that resulted in the deaths of eight Airmen. The Air Force, Marine Corps, and Navy have collectively suspended operations for the V-22, pending the Air Force’s investigation into the cause of the Osprey crash.

“We are very thankful to the Republic of Korea rescue forces and all our teammates who made the swift recovery of our pilot possible,” Col. Matthew C. Gaetke, 8th FW commander, said in a statement. He added that the wing will now shift its focus to the search and recovery of the aircraft.