Sun, May 18, 2008 - Page 1 News List

Taiwanese tourists found alive

HAPPY ENDING Ecstatic relatives lit firecrackers in Hsichou Township after learning that 14 elderly tourists caught up in the Sichuan earthquake were safe and sound

By Shelley Shan and Jimmy Chuang  /  STAFF REPORTERS

The 14 Taiwanese tourists who had been missing for six days since an earthquake devastated China’s Sichuan Province on Monday were finally located yesterday, the Travel Agent Association (TAA) said.

TAA chairman Yao Ta-kuang (姚大光) said the group was on its way to Dujianyen when the earthquake struck.

“Their bus was unable to move on because the road was closed, so they took refuge in a local village called Chipan in Chipangou, a mining area about 5km from the epicenter in Wenchuan,” Yao said.

On Friday, the TAA reported that the last recorded signal of the global positioning system (GPS) on the bus had been about 4km from Wenchuan.

Yao said that the group’s tour guide Chen Chien-chin (陳健欽) managed to contact family members in Taiwan and the association’s emergency taskforce in Chengdu with a satellite phone yesterday morning.

Chen reported that all the tourists were safe.

Yao added that the Chinese government was preparing to dispatch a helicopter to bring the tourists to Chengdu.

All 14 tourists are from Hsichou Township (溪州) in Changhua County, with an average age of 65.

Television news showed ecstatic family members in Hsichou lighting firecrackers to celebrate the news that their loved ones were safe and sound.

Yao said that the association has now reached all of the tour groups that were stranded in Jiuzhaigou.

Four humanitarian charter flights — organized by China Airlines (華航), EVA Air (長榮航空), Mandarin Airlines (華信航空) and TransAsia Airways (復興航空) — brought home a total of 727 Taiwanese tourists.

The first group of 165 passengers arrived home from Chongqing aboard a TransAsia Airways flight at 10:16pm on Friday, and another group of 93 passengers returned from Chengdu on a Mandarin Airlines flight at 12:30am yesterday.

At 6am on Saturday, the last two groups, with a total of 464 passengers, returned from Chongqing aboard flights provided by China Airlines and EVA Airways.

Meanwhile, Yao denied media reports that 74 tourists who are all employess of MassMutual Mercuries Life (MMML, 三商美邦人壽), had been abandoned in Jiuzhaigou without food or water.

Yao said the association had arranged to evacuate 421 MMML employees in Jiuzhaigou, including the 74 tourists.

“We wanted to bring them to Chonqing to catch the charter flights, but they insisted on staying to continue their unfinished tour,” he said, adding that they wanted to visit the Wolong panda breeding site.

Yao showed the affidavits the tourists signed collectively on Thursday, indicating that they were responsible for their own safety and for missing the charter flight the association had arranged for them.

“Other people have followed the association’s guidance to leave the earthquake-stricken area at once, but they [74 tourists] only cared about having fun. Now they have complained to the media that we [the association] did not take care of them. Is this fair?” he said. “I hereby condemn these 74 tourists for their selfish behavior.”

Meanwhile, Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Legislator John Chiang (蔣孝嚴) said yesterday that China-based Yangtze River Express (揚子江快運航空) will send a cargo flight to Taiwan to help carry emergency supplies to Chengdu.

This would mark the first humanitarian cargo flight from China.

Chiang said the cargo flight was scheduled to take off from Shanghai at 3pm yesterday and arrive in Taipei at 5:30pm. The flight was also scheduled to leave at 8:30pm after loading supplies collected from charity groups in Taiwan.

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