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Navy diver Joseph T. Moebius Jr. gets a final safety check before diving in waters off the west coast of South Korea on Wednesday in search of the wreckage of an Air Force F-16 fighter plane that crashed March 14. Moebius is aboard the USS Safeguard, a rescue-and-salvage ship that took part in the search.
Navy diver Joseph T. Moebius Jr. gets a final safety check before diving in waters off the west coast of South Korea on Wednesday in search of the wreckage of an Air Force F-16 fighter plane that crashed March 14. Moebius is aboard the USS Safeguard, a rescue-and-salvage ship that took part in the search. (Joshua L. DeMotts / U.S. Air Force)
Navy diver Joseph T. Moebius Jr. gets a final safety check before diving in waters off the west coast of South Korea on Wednesday in search of the wreckage of an Air Force F-16 fighter plane that crashed March 14. Moebius is aboard the USS Safeguard, a rescue-and-salvage ship that took part in the search.
Navy diver Joseph T. Moebius Jr. gets a final safety check before diving in waters off the west coast of South Korea on Wednesday in search of the wreckage of an Air Force F-16 fighter plane that crashed March 14. Moebius is aboard the USS Safeguard, a rescue-and-salvage ship that took part in the search. (Joshua L. DeMotts / U.S. Air Force)
Two Navy divers are hoisted aboard the USS Safeguard, a Navy rescue-and-salvage ship that attempted to recover the wreckage of an Air Force F-16C fighter plane that crashed March 14. The Navy located the wreckage but was unable to recover any after heavy seas and bad weather forced it to suspend its search late Wednesday.
Two Navy divers are hoisted aboard the USS Safeguard, a Navy rescue-and-salvage ship that attempted to recover the wreckage of an Air Force F-16C fighter plane that crashed March 14. The Navy located the wreckage but was unable to recover any after heavy seas and bad weather forced it to suspend its search late Wednesday. (Joshua L. DeMotts / U.S. Air Force)
Navy divers aboard the USS Safeguard prepare to search for wreckage from an Air Force F-16 fighter plane that crashed March 14 in the West Sea.
Navy divers aboard the USS Safeguard prepare to search for wreckage from an Air Force F-16 fighter plane that crashed March 14 in the West Sea. (Joshua L. DeMotts / U.S. Air Force)

PYEONGTAEK, South Korea — High winds and heavy seas forced the U.S. Navy to suspend its search for the wreckage of a U.S. fighter plane that crashed March 14 off South Korea’s west coast, the Navy said Friday.

No wreckage was recovered. Whether to resume the effort will be decided later, according to military officials.

The Navy began its search March 24 for the Air Force F-16C that went down off the peninsula’s west coast about 25 miles from Kunsan Air Base. The pilot, Capt. Donald Siegmund, of Kunsan’s 8th Fighter Wing, ejected safely from the single-seat jet and later was pulled from the sea by a South Korean rescue helicopter. Siegmund is assigned to the wing’s 35th Fighter Squadron.

The Air Force wanted the wreckage for its crash investigation. Navy divers eventually spotted parts of the aircraft — including what they believed were the engine and part of the fuselage — in 60 to 80 feet of water.

But by late Wednesday, with seas running four to six feet and winds averaging 23 mph, Lt. Cmdr. Doyle Hodges called off the search because it was too risky for divers, he stated in an e-mail answer to questions from Stars and Stripes. The forecast also called for winds to reach 39 mph to 54 mph, he said. The ship left the scene Thursday.

Hodges is commanding officer of the USS Safeguard, a 250-foot rescue-and-salvage ship that carried out the bulk of the search.

The F-16 crashed in “an area of very high current, which makes movement under water and precise positioning of the ship very difficult,” Hodges said. “The safe window to dive in such conditions, even if winds and seas cooperate, is only a few hours per day.”

Whether officials later resume the search will depend on how much further recovery efforts might cost, the availability of salvage vessels and the needs of the Air Force panel investigating the crash, Hodges said. The Navy and Air Force would make the decision jointly.

A search for the ejection seat was begun separately by a South Korean navy diving-and-salvage ship, the ROKS Pyong Taek, which arrived with the Safeguard. The Pyong Taek stayed three days but left March 27 to avoid rough weather, Hodges said.

The ejection seat contains the flight data recorder, highly important in air crash investigations. The seat is believed to be several hundred yards from the main wreckage, Hodges said.

The minesweeper USS Guardian first located the wreckage March 24 using its sonar, then left for another mission.

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