20240131 f16 fighter jet
An F-16 fighter jet. (For illustrative purposes only) Image Credit: Reuters

Seoul: An American F-16 fighter jet experienced an "in-flight emergency" over the West Sea off South Korea and crashed early Wednesday, the US military said, adding the pilot had been rescued.

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"An F-16 Fighting Falcon assigned to the 8th Fighter Wing here experienced an in-flight emergency over the West Sea and crashed at approximately 8:41am (2341 GMT) today," the military said in a statement.

"The pilot ejected safely and was recovered at around 9:30 am. He is conscious and was transported to a medical facility for assessment."

The statement hailed the close cooperation with South Korea during the rescue operation.

"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," said Colonel Matthew C. Gaetke, 8th Fighter Wing commander.

"Now we will shift our focus to search and recovery of the aircraft," he added.

"Information on the cause of the in-flight emergency will not be made available until the conclusion of thorough safety and accident investigations," the statement said.

The Korea Coast Guard told AFP the fighter jet had crashed near Mokdeok island, which is off South Korea's west coast.

This is the third crash of an American F-16 fighter jet in South Korea since May 2023.

A US F-16 fighter jet crashed in December during a routine training exercise after experiencing what the US military said was "an in-flight emergency". That pilot was also rescued.

In May last year, a US F-16 jet crashed during a routine training exercise in a farming area south of Seoul. The pilot ejected safely and the accident caused no other casualties.

Washington is Seoul's most important security ally and stations about 28,500 troops in South Korea to help protect it from the nuclear-armed North.

In neighbouring Japan, the US military announced late last year that it was grounding its fleet of V-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft following a deadly crash that killed eight US airmen.