Taiwan's top military leader and two major generals were among eight senior officers who were killed Thursday morning when their Black Hawk helicopter crashed in a mountainous region in the north part of the island. There were five survivors.
Chief of Staff Shen Yi-ming, Political Warfare Bureau deputy director Yu Chin-wen, and deputy chief of staff for intelligence Hung-chin were among the dead. Also killed were a lieutenant colonel, a captain, a major and two senior master sergeants, according to AFP.
The 62-year-old military leader was on a routine mission with his entourage to visit soldiers in northeast Yilan county for the upcoming Lunar New Year.
One of the five survivors, Lieutenant-general Tsao Ching-ping told rescuers "I am okay... two others are injured and only I can walk," according to local television.
"There is one more person who's more seriously wounded and two or three people in the cabin ... while two more with no signs of life."
The other survivors include new deputy chief of logistics Huang Yu-min and military news agency reporter Chen Ying-ju.
President Tsai Ing-wen's office said that she will cancel all campaign activities for three days after the tragedy. The ruling Democratic Progressive Party will also suspend campaigning for three days.
Tsai is seeking a second term against Kaohsiung city mayor Han Kuo-yu of the Kuomintang (KMT) party in the January 11 elections when Taiwan will also elect a new parliament. -AFP
The UH-60M Black Hawk helicopter was carrying 13 passengers when it disappeared from radar less than 15 minutes after takeoff at 7:54 a.m., according to Air Force Commander Hsing Hou-chi. At 8:07 a.m. the pilot issued a weather report before contact was abruptly lost. A military task force has been established to determine the cause of the crash.
"We are investigating whether (the cause) was environmental or mechanical," Hsing told the press.
This is the latest in a string of Black Hawk helicopter crashes in Taiwan using equipment purchased from the United States.
In 2018 a chopper belonging to a government rescue agency crashed during a medical mission off outlying Orchid Island, killing six people on board in an incident attributed to human error.
There were also two crash landings in 2016 and 2018 with no casualties.
Washington has remained Taipei's most powerful unofficial ally and its leading arms supplier despite switching diplomatic recognition to Beijing in 1979.
"We hope that our steadfast commitment to supporting Taiwan's security will honour their memory," US de facto embassy, the American Institute in Taiwan (AIT), said in a statement. -AFP
Ground troops and rescue helicopters were dispatched to the crash site in northeastern Taiwan, and survivors were carried off the mountains instead of air-lifted due to bad weather.
Beijing's communist mouthpiece, Global Times editor-in-chief Hu Xijin, pointed to the crash as an example of the "poor reliability of Taiwan's military equipment."
Eight people died, this is unfortunate. Even the chief of general staff couldn't escape the misfortune, which reflects the poor reliability of Taiwan's military equipment. It doesn't look like an army that has good combat capability. https://t.co/GcSCLu4dWd— Hu Xijin 胡锡进 (@HuXijin_GT) January 2, 2020