Decades of res­cue work from moun­tains to sea

The China Post - - LOCAL -

A crew of five, in­clud­ing pilots and emer­gency med­i­cal tech­ni­cians (EMTs), are get­ting ready to fly in a blue res­cue he­li­copter from the Chi­ayi Air Force Base in South­ern Tai­wan to res­cue the peo­ple in need.

They are mem­bers of the Air Res­cue Group, a search-and-res­cue group un­der the Air Force.

From the moun­tains to the sea, day or night, they are dis­patched to res­cue peo­ple. Since its es­tab­lish­ment in 1954, the Air Res­cue Group has been re­lent­less in de­liv­er­ing emer­gency re­lief to both lo­cals and for­eign­ers.

Over the past 61 years, the group has been tasked with search and res­cue mis­sions when se­vere typhoons strike Tai­wan, and when ac­ci­dents oc­cur in the moun­tains or at sea.

For ex­am­ple, the group has been ac­tive in search and res­cue ef­forts in the wake of ma­jor dis­as­ters in Tai­wan in re­cent years, in­clud­ing Typhoon Mo­rakot in 2009 that caused mas­sive dev­as­ta­tion, and a plane crash in out­ly­ing Penghu County in July 2014 that killed 49 peo­ple.

Am­bu­lance Ser­vices

The group’s work also in­cludes air am­bu­lance ser­vices tak­ing in­jured peo­ple from Tai­wan’s out­ly­ing is­lands to re­ceive fur­ther treat­ment at hos­pi­tals on Tai­wan proper.

Part of its work is to air­lift peo­ple suf­fer­ing sud­den ill­ness while in the moun­tains or on fish­ing boats op­er­at­ing in the seas around Tai­wan and to pro­vide med­i­cal care dur­ing the flight.

Some of the tasks are sim­i­lar to those car­ried out by the Na­tional Air­borne Ser­vice Corps un­der the Min­istry of the In­te­rior, but the Air Res­cue Group “is the only one in the mil­i­tary that can con­duct air­lift­ing mis­sions dur­ing night­time,” said Col. Chen Mei-huang, head of the group.

The group is also ca­pa­ble of fly­ing fur­ther to con­duct mar­itime res­cue mis­sions, he told CNA.

One ex­am­ple was last year, when the 2,700-ton RV Ocean Re­searcher 5 sank off the out­ly­ing county of Penghu in stormy weather on the night of Oct. 10, he said.

Shortly af­ter the ac­ci­dent, Air Res­cue Group mem­bers were dis­patched aboard EC225 and S-70C he­li­copters to search for and res­cue the peo­ple from the ship.

Air­lift­ing peo­ple at night is not easy, partly due to poor vis­i­bil­ity. Res­cue ef­forts can be fur­ther ham­pered and made even more dan­ger­ous in bad weather con­di­tions.

Reg­u­lar Train­ing

To meet the de­mands of the res­cue work, reg­u­lar train­ing is key to main­tain­ing and im­prov­ing the group’s res­cue abil­i­ties, said Chen, a pi­lot who has been with the group for nearly 20 years.

“We put great em­pha­sis on our train­ing,” he said, adding that main­tain­ing avail­abil­ity of the group’s air­craft is equally im­por­tant.

Group mem­bers have to un­dergo reg­u­lar train­ing mis­sions in wa­ters off Tai­wan’s coast to main­tain their skills in night res­cues, said the 44-year-old mil­i­tary pi­lot.

Each train­ing mis­sion sees a unit of five mem­bers — pi­lot, co pi­lot, two EMTs and a crew chief — carry out a sim­u­lated res­cue mis­sion to­gether “to im­prove co­or­di­na­tion be­tween pilots and other crew mem­bers while con­duct­ing an ac­tual res­cue mis­sion,” Chen said.

To bol­ster the group’s mar­itime res­cue abil­i­ties, he ex­pressed hope for co­op­er­a­tion with the Coast Guard to prac­tice sim­u­lated res­cues at sea in the fu­ture, although fur­ther dis­cus­sion will be needed on this is­sue, he said.

Over the past decades, the group has fre­quently been dis­patched to res­cue fish­er­men from boats in the wa­ters sur­round­ing Tai­wan.

Res­cue Fish­er­men

One of the most ur­gent mis­sions oc­curred in July 2002, when Typhoon Nakri hit Tai­wan. At that time, the group’s mem­bers were sent to air­lift sev­eral fish­er­men from a burn­ing Kaoh­si­ung reg­is­tered boat in wa­ters off the south­ern port city of Kaoh­si­ung.

The Coast Guard and the Na­tional Air­borne Ser­vice Corps also joined the res­cue ef­fort, in which most of the 133 Chi­nese and Viet­namese fish­er­men on the boat were saved.

“Our res­cues are not lim­ited to lo­cal fish­ing boats,” Chen said. “We will also be de­ployed to res­cue for­eign fish­ing boats in the event of emer­gency.”

Another ma­jor part of the group’s work is to help peo­ple suf­fer­ing sud­den ill­ness while in the moun­tains.

One im­pres­sive thing for Chen was when a Ja­panese tourist vis­ited the group’s base in Chi­ayi to present the group mem­bers with a small chunk of dec­o­ra­tive gran­ite to ex­press his grat­i­tude. The man had been res­cued by the group when he took ill while climb­ing Qi­lais­han in cen­tral Tai­wan in Au­gust 1998.

“We do not ask for re­wards in re­turn for our work, but his move re­ally warmed our hearts,” Chen re­called.

The Air Res­cue Group cur­rently has two types of res­cue air­craft in its fleet: the S-70C and the EC225. Along with a to­tal of 19 he­li­copters, there are about 180 mem­bers of the group, Chen said.

87 Res­cue Mis­sions Last Year

The group con­ducted a to­tal of 87 res­cue mis­sions in 2014, sav­ing 125 peo­ple. In the first half of 2015, it car­ried out 54 mis­sions, sav­ing six peo­ple.

Chen, who took over as the group’s head late last year, said that the top pri­or­ity is to en­sure the safety of all group mem­bers when they con­duct a mis­sion.

He ad­mit­ted that “the most dif­fi­cult is to de­cide to abort a mis­sion” when weather con­di­tions are too ad­verse. He en­cour­ages the mem­bers to keep in mind that they can come back when the weather im­proves; oth­er­wise, they could not save peo­ple and could even put their own lives in dan­ger.

2015 marks the 61st an­niver­sary of the group, and it has des­ig­nated the year as “guardian year,” re­flect­ing its de­vo­tion to be­ing a guardian for the peo­ple of Tai­wan.

“I ex­pect each mem­ber of our group to keep im­prov­ing their abil­i­ties to en­sure their own safety while on res­cue mis­sions,” he said. “That will al­low them to ‘guard’ those who need to be res­cued.”


A fe­male R.O.C. Air Force res­cuer, Lo Hsiu-wen, de­scends from a he­li­copter dur­ing a drill in Chi­ayi, yesterday. Lo is cur­rently the only woman in her res­cue team.

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