A Sunrise Airlines BK117 helicopter crashed in a mountainous area in central Taiwan yesterday morning, leaving the three people on board dead, the Civil Aeronautics Administration (CAA) has confirmed.
The helicopter crashed 500m east of the Central Weather Bureau’s (CWB) observation station on Yushan (玉山) as it was transporting supplies and a bureau worker to the station, the airline said.
The deceased were identified as pilot Chang Kuo-kang (張國綱), co-pilot Lin Yi-chi (林益淇) and bureau worker Chen Wen-chung (陳文忠).
According to the CAA, the helicopter took off from Taipei International Airport (Songshan Airport) at 6:38am and landed at Yushan’s Tataka at 7:42am to pick up three bureau employees heading to work at the station, along with supplies.
Because the helicopter could only carry one worker at a time, it had to make three trips between Tataka and the observation station on the mountain’s north face.
The first run from Tataka to the station and back, which left Tataka at 7:53am, went smoothly. However, the helicopter never made it back to the observation station after taking off on its second run at about 8:05am.
When the helicopter did not report back to the airline within about 10 minutes after it had reached the station, the Taipei-based airline knew something was wrong.
The National Search and Rescue Command Center sent rescue personnel to the scene at 8:32am, and it reported to the CAA at 9:20am that all three on board had been killed in a crash.
The cause of the accident was unclear as of yesterday afternoon, and the Aviation Safety Council said it was planning to send an investigation unit to the area.
The airline said the latest safety inspection of the 23-year-old helicopter 13 days ago found everything to be normal.
Chang started to work for Sunrise in 1999 and had 3,181 hours of flying experience, while Lin started in 2009 and had 2,832 hours in the air.
Weather conditions in the area were fine at the time of the accident, with visibility reaching 30km, the bureau said.
The average wind speed was 30kph and no rain or fog was detected, it said.
The bureau said it relies on Sunrise to carry bureau staff back and forth to work once a month.
Yesterday’s crash was the fourth time a Sunrise BK117 helicopter has malfunctioned in 11 years of operations.
The same-model helicopter experienced problems on flights in 2002, 2008 and 2009. Two of the three people on board in the 2009 crash died when the helicopter crashed at sea near Kinmen Airport after transporting patients.
The CAA said it would set up an investigation unit to examine the airline’s operational status.
Developed jointly by Germany and Japan, the BK117 helicopter is 9.91m long and 3.83m tall, with a maximum take-off weight of 2,850kg.
The model is multi-functional and can be used for aerial photography, rescue work and civilian and military transportation jobs.