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Air Heroes 2: Accidents fuel dedication to rescue work

Air Heroes 2: Accidents fuel dedication to rescue work

By Elaine Hou, CNA staff reporter On a slightly cloudy day in May 2013, 1st Lt. Cheng Yu-teng (???) was flying a Taiwanese Air Force Mirage 2000 on a routine training mission in northern Taiwan when disaster struck. An unidentified mechanical failure in the rear of the jet fighter triggered a fire that Cheng and an instructor in the rear seat of the plane could not bring under control. The instructor gave an order to eject, and the two pilots parachuted into waters off Taiwan's northern coast while their plane crashed into the sea. Though Cheng survived, his ambition to become a full-fledged Mirage pilot was extinguished because of the mental trauma resulting from the accident. Even after going through mental counseling following the crash, he could not overcome his mental demons and was unable to fly a jet fighter alone, he told CNA in an interview. Fortunately for him, however, he had an opportunity to transfer to the Air Rescue Group and continue to be a military pilot -- but flying rescue missions rather than combat missions. The 28-year-old pilot joined the group, based in Chiayi County in southern Taiwan, last year, and he has since received flight training on the group's S-70C rescue helicopters. He became a co-pilot at the end of July. "I'm happy to become a member of the group, which allows me to rescue people in need, just like those pilots who rescued me," he said. "I really like the job." Recalling the crash on May 20, 2013, Cheng said there was no inkling of anything amiss when the fighter took off in weather conditions within the military's safety standards during the daytime training mission. After ejecting from plane, however, he had to cope with rough seas before help came. "After we fell to the sea, the waves were getting bigger and bigger. But it was lucky that we were saved by the Air Rescue Group quickly," Cheng said. "At that time, I was not worried about making it back. I was convinced that someone would come to my rescue." His belief became reality. Both Cheng and his instructor were airlifted out of danger by the Air Rescue Group about one hour after they fell into the Taiwan Strait. Established in 1954, the group is responsible for conducting rescue missions in the mountains and at sea. Over the past six decades, the group has encountered two significant losses while conducting their operations. The latest one occurred on March 26, 2012, when a helicopter crashed into the sea off Taiwan's southeastern coast during a rescue mission, killing five of the chopper's six crew members. The only survivor was Tech. Sgt. Tsai Yi-che (???), a medical technician, who did not give up his job despite the crash. The accident occurred shortly after the helicopter reached the target area to rescue a fisherman on a fishing boat who was suffering chest pains. "There was no moon, and it was completely dark," Tsai said, recalling the poor visibility during the nighttime rescue operation. "After I fell into the sea, I saw some pieces of debris but did not see any of the other crew members," he told CNA. He also saw the fishing boat carrying the fisherman who needed care and tried to swim to it. The vessel's crew members eventually pulled him out of the water and sailed to Orchid Island, about 90 kilometers south of Taitung County. "The fishing boat waiting to be rescued instead came to my rescue," he said. After the boat reached Orchid Island, Tsai and the patient with chest pains were taken by an Air Rescue Group helicopter to Taitung and rushed to a hospital by ambulance to receive further treatment, Tsai said. "At that point, the only thing on my mind was whether the other crew members were rescued," he said. Tsai later returned to Chiayi and resumed his work about one month after the accident occurred. Though he was saddened by the fact that the other rescuers on his team were never found after the crash, the incident actually kindled his desire to stick to the job. "It gave me motivation to stay here," said the 30-year-old, a medical technician who has been with the group for about four years. Tsai said he had to stick to the job to honor the ultimate sacrifice made by the five other rescuers. In fact, the accident drove home the importance of his work. "As medical technicians, our mission is to save people's lives. But I had never imagined that I would need to be rescued one day," he said. "Having gone through the accident, I can empathize more with people needing our rescue service," he said. "I will do my best during every rescue mission in the future."


Updated : 2021-09-18 22:25 GMT+08:00