Mon, May 27, 2002 - Page 3 News List

Military search mobilization largest in its history

By Brian Hsu  /  STAFF REPORTER

Over 5,000 military and coast guard personnel have been sent to assist search-and-recovery efforts in the seas off Penghu in the two days since Saturday's China Airlines crash.

In the largest-ever mobilization of its kind in the military's history, the navy dispatched over 40 vessels while the air force sent 12 aircraft and helicopters, the Ministry of National Defense said yesterday.

The army contributed manpower to the operation, mobilizing more than 4,000 soldiers over the past two days.

The coast guard administration, which also joined the operation, sent almost all of its forces in southern Taiwan -- some 1,000 personnel and 28 patrol boats, according to coast guard officials.

Minister of National Defense Tang Yao-ming (湯曜明), who yesterday inspected the military's rescue operations in Penghu, said the military will continue to search for survivors despite the fact that the odds of finding anyone are not good.

The first 72 hours after a crash are considered critical in rescue efforts.

Tang has assigned Deputy Chief of the General Staff Admiral Fei Hung-po (費鴻波) to stay in Penghu to take charge of the rescue operations.

Meanwhile, the ministry announced that two Chinese rescue ships, identified as Hujiu No. 12 and the Hwayi, have left their ports in Fujian for an area close to the region where the Taiwan military is searching for the bodies of the crash victims.

"The two Chinese ships are to assist the search for the crash victims' bodies, but they are not to enter Taiwan's territorial waters," the ministry said.

The search for the crash victims' bodies is the largest of its kind in the military, providing a good chance to test the military's response to an emergency situation.

It is alsoa test of the military's joint operation capabilities since the search mission involves the three services.

One problem the forces are confronting is a lack of direct communication capabilities between the three services.

The naval vessels, for instance, are not able to directly communicate with the air force. They have to rely on the Hengshan command in suburban Taipei for the transmission of data collected by the air force.

That lack of direct communication was the reason Chief of the General Staff Admiral Li Chieh (李傑) yesterday had to stay at the Hengshan command. Li was at the command mainly to assign the three services to different parts of the search mission and to make sure that the three services could communicate with his assistance.

This indirect method of communication is expected to stay in place for several more years before an inter-service data link system purchased from the US is installed.

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