Renowned director, two others killed in chopper crash

06/10/2017 08:30 PM
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Photo courtesy of a local resident.
Photo courtesy of a local resident.

Taipei, June 10 (CNA) A Taichung-based airline said Saturday a helicopter that crashed in Hualien lost contact with the company one hour after taking off from Taitung.

All three men aboard the chopper, Bell-31118, including Chi Po-lin (齊柏林), acclaimed director of the 2013 documentary "Beyond Beauty: Taiwan from Above,"(看見台灣), 52; his assistant, Chen Kuan-chi (陳冠齊), 25; and pilot Chang Chih-kuang (張志光), 53, were killed.

Huang Wei-chun (黃為君), an official from Emerald Pacific Airlines (凌天航空), said Chi was surveying for locations for the sequel to "Beyond Beauty," and booked the flight for aerial filming last week.

The chopper was filming when it crashed at a mango farm in the mountainous area of Fengbin Township, Hualien County.

According to one witness, Chen Feng-chiao (陳鳳嬌), a resident of Fengbin Township, she first heard the sound of the propeller and then saw the chopper flying near Changhung Bridge, descending at an angle of 70 degrees before crashing and belching out smoke.

The fuselage of the chopper broke in two with wreckage scattered over a 10 meter radius.

Huang said the chopper took off from Pingtung at 6 a.m. and returned after two hours. It took off again at 8 a.m. heading for Chihshang in Taitung.

The helicopter took off from Chihshang at 10:40 a.m. for its third flight on Saturday, flying along the Hualien-Taitung Rift Valley for Juisui, Hualien, and was scheduled to return to Taitung along the coast.

The journey was to be a two-hour flight, but about one hour after taking off, the pilot lost contact.

Chang had had over 5,500 flight hours, and it was his first flight that day. The previous two flights had different pilots, the company said.

Huang said the chopper, bought by the company after it rolled off the production line in 2001, underwent regular maintenance after every 100 hours in the air. Its last maintenance check was on April 13.

The company said aviation kerosene is different from regular kerosene, with a high burning point that makes it difficult to ignite, which makes the fire after the crash particularly perplexing.

Meanwhile, the Aviation Safety Council (ASC) has formed a seven-member task force to investigate the crash, though it noted that identifying a definitive reason for the crash could be difficult.

ASC Executive Director Thomas Wang (王興中) said the chopper had not been installed with two vital "black boxes," a flight data recorder (FDR) or cockpit voice recorder (CVR).

According to the Civil Aviation Act, aircraft under 5,700kg are not required to be equipped with FDR and CVR.

Wang said the task force will focus on the weather, spread and location of the wreckage, flight plan, radar map and interviews with related personnel to try to determine the cause.

However, the fact the chopper was operating at a low altitude, which avoids radar detection also makes any investigation difficult, he said.

Wang said the Emerald Pacific Airlines has three Bell 206 helicopters, only one of which is fitted with black boxes.

(By Chao Li-yuan, Wang Shu-fen, Lien Hsien-feng and Lilian Wu)

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