Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen on Friday urged the island’s armed forces to be on alert for any threat to national security following the helicopter crash that killed eight senior military personnel.
The military had to ensure the security of the Taiwan Strait and that was the best way to remember Shen Yi-ming, Taiwan’s chief of staff, who was the highest ranking officer to die in the crash, she said after a meeting with Defence Minister Yen Te-fa and senior officers.
“We must guarantee the safety of our surrounding Taiwan Strait, and the military must closely follow military developments in the Taiwan Strait, so they can respond and deploy as soon as possible to ensure our national security,” she said.
Tsai paid tribute to those who died when the UH-60M Black Hawk helicopter carrying 13 people crashed on Thursday morning in a mountainous region of northern Taiwan. She said she had also ordered a full investigation into what brought down the aircraft as it was en route from Songshan airport in Taipei to Yilan county to take part in New Year military activities.
She said that in a rare move Shen had been posthumously promoted to become a first-level general – the highest rank. He was also awarded the Order of Blue Sky and White Sun with Grand Cordon, Taiwan’s second-highest military honour which is granted to those who have made an outstanding contribution to national defence.
“Continuing to stand by our posts is the best way to remember chief of general staff Shen,” she said.
The helicopter, which had no record of mechanical problems, disappeared from radar screens at 8:07am after taking off at 7:54am. It later crashed in the mountains of New Taipei county’s Wulai district.
Taiwan’s Central News Agency reported on Friday that the military had grounded all 52 of its UH-60M Black Hawks – bought from the United States in 2010 – pending a full investigation.
The defence ministry said the helicopter’s black box had been located at 10.40am on Friday. Aviation Safety Council chief Kuan Wen-lin said the data from the black box could be analysed within one day if it was not damaged, but would require three days if it had suffered damage, CNA said.
Thursday’s fatal incident was not the first involving a Black Hawk helicopter in Taiwan. In February 2018, six people were killed when a Black Hawk crashed after its pilot ignored warning signals about air turbulence.
Earlier on Friday, Tsai visited the five survivors of the crash – Lieutenant General Huang Yu-min, Lieutenant General Tsao Chin-ping, Major General Liu Hsiao-tang, Lieutenant Colonel Chou Hsin-yi, and Military News Agency reporter Chen Ying-chu – at the Tri-Service General Hospital.
She later told reporters that although two of those injured were still in intensive care they were conscious, and that doctors had said that all five were in a stable condition.
Tsai Chien-sung, chief of the hospital’s department of surgery, said that Huang’s injuries were the most serious with multiple bone fractures and bruises to both lungs, but that his breathing was stable and his life signs were positive. Chen Ying-chu was also in intensive care with wounds on her face and slight bone fractures, but would be able to be transferred to general wards after two days, Tsai said.
Tsai also had words for the relatives of those who lost loved ones in the crash.
“From yesterday until today, the families of the victims have been grieving deeply, as it is very difficult to bear when your loved ones are suddenly unable to return home,” she said.
“From their emotions we can see that the military officers’ families have a huge burden to bear, and this incident has made us realise that our soldiers need to work hard but their families need to work even harder, so our entire society should cherish and be thankful for their contributions.”
Tsai, who is preparing for a presidential election on January 11, said on Thursday that she had suspended her re-election campaign activities in the wake of the crash, as did her main opponent, Kaohsiung mayor Han Kuo-yu.
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