Three ROC Aviation Co (大鵬航空) employees who went missing during an aerial photography assignment last week were found dead in the mountainous area between Hualien and Greater Kaohsiung, rescuers from the Taitung County Fire Department confirmed yesterday.
The deceased were identified as Hsueh Chen-hao (薛晨浩), 60, co-pilot Chang Ming-ching (張明欽), 58, and aerial photographer Chien Yu-hsin (錢煜新), 45.
The aircraft, a Briston-Norman islander, went missing on Thursday. After fruitless search efforts on Friday, rescuers finally found the crash site on Saturday morning thanks to a photograph taken by another aerial photography firm. Because the aircraft appeared to be relatively undamaged in photos, rescuers originally thought the pilot might have been forced to make an emergency landing and that the three people on board might still be alive.
However, when rescue workers reached the location of the crash site yesterday morning, they found the bodies of Hsueh and Chang in the cockpit. Chien’s body was later found outside the aircraft.
The victims’ bodies were transported to a Hualien air force base by helicopter before noon.
Rescuers said the aircraft crashed on a steep slope 3km southeast of Nanshuangtou Mountain, which is 3,045m above sea level. The front of the aircraft and one of the aircraft’s wings were destroyed.
Judging from the scene, the three died soon after the crash, the rescuers said.
Some people said the National Rescue Command Center’s failure to quickly identify the location of the plane crash could have led to their deaths.
The center first ascertained that the crash site was located near Abulang Mountain between Hualien and Taitung counties, then decided to search the Lakuyin River area between Hualien and Greater Kaoshsiung.
The center also came under criticism for mistakenly sending a rescue team to a camp site in Taiping Valley, which was about 10km away from the crash site.
Reports said the rescuers had identified 10 sets of coordinates for possible crash sites based on the signals sent from the airplane’s emergency locater transmitter (ELT). Nine of the possible locations were on the border of Hualien and Greater Kaohsiung counties.
While the Civil Aeronautics Administration suggested that the center search areas in which they received strong ELT signals, the center insisted on searching the area on its radar system where the aircraft was last seen.
According to the administration, the frequency of ELT signals is 406Mhz, and the systems are activated manually or whenever an aircraft is hit by a strong force or falls into water. ELT signals are received by rescue agencies around the world once they are sent, it added. However, there remains a margin of error of about 1km to 2km when identifying exact locations.
Meanwhile, the administration said it would cooperate with the Aviation Safety Council, which is to investigate the cause of the accident.
Council Executive Director Thomas Wang (王興中) said the council would need to take several important factors into account when determining the cause, including the geography and the location where the plane crashed.