Taiwan Black Hawk crash investigation may take a year, air force says

Sarah Zheng

Taiwan’s public may have to wait a year to learn the details of what happened in the Black Hawk helicopter crash which killed eight senior military officials, including chief of staff Shen Yi-ming, according to the island’s air force.

Investigators earlier confirmed they had retrieved data from the chopper’s black box, while officials from the Taiwan Transport Safety Board (TTSB) said over the weekend they had ruled out 80 per cent of potential mechanical factors in the crash which killed eight of the 13 military personnel on board.

The UH-60M Black Hawk fell off radar screens less than 15 minutes after taking off from Songshan Airport in Taipei. The wreckage of the craft was located a few hours later in the mountainous region of northern New Taipei county’s Wulai district.

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TTSB, the government agency which oversees major transport accidents, said there was an 80 to 90 per cent likelihood that downward air currents could be eliminated as a cause, while the possibility of human error would require further analysis before it could be ruled out, according to Taiwan’s Central News Agency (CNA).

“Mechanical irregularities can mostly be ruled out, and we also cannot see that there was turbulence at the time of the incident,” TTSB director Young Hong-Tsu said. “As to whether there were human factors, that requires further investigation.”

In response to criticism from the defence ministry and air force that details about the investigation were given to the media, Young told Taiwan’s Apple Daily they were not seeking to blame anyone but to provide timely information to the public.

But air force officials said on Sunday that, while the black box was an important information source, the investigation still needed to cross-reference assessments of the wreckage at the crash site with the helicopter’s maintenance records, the health records of the pilots, air traffic management and communication, as well as the helicopter’s flight trajectory, and weather factors.

The full investigation could take one year before it would be made public, CNA reported.

The helicopter was one of 60 UH-60M Black Hawks Taiwan bought from the US in 2010. The craft was delivered in July and had flown only 376 hours with no major incidents recorded in the past three months.

Air force officials said it was too early to tell if the black box data needed to be sent to the US for further interpretation.

Deadly Taiwan helicopter crash ‘won’t affect military operations’

The incident came only days ahead of Taiwan’s presidential and legislative elections on Saturday, where cross-strait relations and the island’s security have been key issues.

Taiwan’s president Tsai Ing-wen ordered the military on Friday to safeguard the island’s security in the wake of the helicopter crash, maintain a heightened awareness of military developments in the Taiwan Strait, and carry out a full inspection of all military equipment.

All of Taiwan’s Black Hawk helicopters on routine missions have been grounded, pending safety inspections.

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