Preliminary findings of an investigation into the helicopter crash that claimed the life of award-winning filmmaker Chi Po-lin (齊柏林) and two others show the helicopter did not run into gondola cables or power lines and there was no fire before the crash, Aviation Safety Council (ASC) investigator Lee Pao-kang (李寶康) said yesterday.
Lee and other ASC investigators yesterday arrived at the site of Saturday’s crash in Hualien County’s Fengbin Township (豐濱).
Chi was using the helicopter, a Bell 206B-3 owned and operated by Emerald Pacific Airlines (凌天航空), to film footage for a sequel to his 2013 documentary Beyond Beauty: Taiwan From Above (看見台灣) when it crashed in a mango orchard in a mountainous area of the township, killing the 52-year-old Chi, pilot Chang Chi-kuang (張志光), 53, and Chi’s assistant, Chen Kuan-chi (陳冠齊), 25.
A Fengbin resident who witnessed the crash said she heard the sound of a propeller and then saw the helicopter flying near Changhong Bridge (長虹橋), descending at 70° before crashing and erupting in a belch of smoke.
The fuselage broke in two and the wreckage was scattered over several meters, officials said.
The helicopter had departed Chihshang Township (池上) at 10:40am for its third flight of the day, a two-hour journey along the Hualien-Taitung Rift Valley, and was scheduled to return to Taitung.
About one hour after take-off, contact with the pilot was lost.
The ASC’s probe faces several difficulties because the helicopter was not equipped with either a flight data recorder or a cockpit voice recorder.
Under the Civil Aviation Act (民用航空法), the two “black boxes” are not compulsory for aircraft under 5,700kg.
Bell Helicopter’s Web site says that an advanced Bell-206L4 helicopter weighs a little more than 2,000kg.
ASC Executive Director Thomas Wang (王興中) has said that without the two recorders, it would be difficult to determine a definitive reason for the crash.
However, investigators are collecting evidence at the crash site and along the flight path.
Lee yesterday said Bell Helicopter specialists are coming to Taiwan to help dismantle the wreckage and the engine for examination.
The Civil Aeronautics Administration said it asked Emerald Pacific Airlines to temporarily suspend operations of its two other Bell 206B-3s until mechanical failure is ruled out as a cause.
Hualien District Prosecutors’ Office Prosecutor Chen Ching-yi (陳靜誼) and a forensic expert examined the remains of the three victims at about 8am yesterday and collected DNA samples from members of their families for matching because visual identification was not possible.
Family members of the victims gathered yesterday near the crash site for Taoist rituals to summon the spirits of the deceased.
“There are still many things that need to be handled, so it is not convenient for me make comments,” Chi’s son said yesterday in response to media queries as he was being comforted by family and friends.
Chen Kuan-chi’s grandmother said that he had lived with her while studying at National Dong Hwa University, and that she could not accept that he had passed away before her.
To pay tribute to Chi, Taipei 101 yesterday displayed the four Chinese characters of Taiwan From Above at the top of the building, and the LED screens on the 59th and 60th floors displayed the words “Green On” in English from 6:30pm to 10pm. It also changed its original purple wall-washer lights for Sundays to white.
Taipei 101 spokesman Michael Liu (劉家豪) said the building’s management and staff had enjoyed working with Chi on the documentary and the company wanted to recognize his contribution to Taiwan’s environmental protection efforts.
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