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Taiwan steps up search for missing Black Hawk helicopter

2018/02/06 20:29:46

File photo

Taipei, Feb. 6 (CNA) A search has been stepped up for a UH-60M Black Hawk helicopter carrying six people that went missing near the outlying island of Lanyu off eastern Taiwan late Monday, the National Search and Rescue Center (NSRC) said in a statement Tuesday.

As of 3:40 p.m. Tuesday, eight helicopters and eight patrol cutters had been deployed to search for the air ambulance helicopter operated by the National Airborne Service Corps (NASC), which went missing on a return flight to Taitung in southeastern Taiwan, after picking up a patient from Lanyu, according to the center.

It lost contact with the control tower and disappeared from radar screens three minutes after leaving Lanyu at 11:48 p.m, according to the center.

The NASC, the Ministry of National Defense and the Coast Guard Administration are involved in the sea-air-land search and rescue mission, the center said.

In terms of ground search and rescue, firefighters in Lanyu and Coast Guard agents have also joined the mission to support a mountain and sea search and rescue for the missing helicopter in mountainous and sea areas near Lanyu Airport.

Premier Lai Ching-te (賴清德) has made the search for the chopper a top priority and has ordered relevant agencies to give it their full support, according to Cabinet spokesman Hsu Kuo-yung (徐國勇).

In addition, NASC and the Army Command Headquarters announced Tuesday that all the 38 UH-60M Black Hawk helicopters in their fleets have been grounded and will not be allowed to fly until a thorough inspection has been conducted.

The helicopter that disappeared belonged to the NASC, leaving it with eight, while the Army has 30.

The helicopter was carrying two pilots, one mechanic and one nurse, in addition to the patient and a family member.

An expert pilot who is familiar with the terrain near Lanyu said there is a lot of turbulence in the area, which makes taking off and landing difficult.

Weather reports also indicate that it was raining during the time the helicopter took off.

The pilot has been identified as Kang Wan-fu (康萬福), who graduated from the ROC Naval Academy in 1989 and has 3,506 hours of total flying experience, including 148 hours on the UH-60M Black Hawk.

Taiwan's military has purchased a total of 60 Black Hawk helicopters from the U.S. at a cost of NT$84.67 billion to replace its aging UH-1H Huey utility helicopters.

Originally to be used by the Army only, the government later decided to designate 15 of them for the NASC to boost its rescue capabilities.

Currently, the NASC has taken delivery of nine of them, while the remaining six will be delivered in partial shipments until 2020.

Another 15 of the choppers, meanwhile, will be turned over to the Air Force to replace its S-70C helicopters that have been used for 30 years, leaving only 30 to the Army.

The Army in December 2017 officially commissioned its UH-60M Black Hawk combat team after completing verification of the helicopter fleet's combat capability.

(By Kuan-lin Liu, Joseph Yeh, Liu Lee-jung, Lu Hsin-hui, Ku Chuan,
Lee Shien-feng, Tyson Lu, Wang Shu-feng, Huang Li-yun and Evelyn Kao)