Thu, Nov 17, 2005 - Page 4 News List

British airmen can finally rest in peace

NOT FORGOTTEN Fourteen RAF airmen who were killed 50 years ago when their plane crashed in Taiwan were commemorated this week after three years of hard work

By Chang Yun-ping  /  STAFF REPORTER

The president of Cornwall County Royal British Legion, Simon Coy, second right, and Bunun Aborigine Huang Sheng-he, second left, pose in front of the newly established memorial in Chungping Village.

PHOTO COURTESY OF THE BRITISH TRADE AND CULTURAL OFFICE.

More than half a century after a British reconnaissance aircraft crashed at Mt. Yuli in Hualien County, killing all 14 airmen onboard, a memorial service took place on Monday to finally honor the deaths of these long forgotten soldiers whose remains were buried in the thick jungle of the immediate crash site.

The aircraft, a Sunderland PP 107 flying boat from the Royal Air Force's (RAF) No. 205 Squadron, had been flying from an RAF base at Iwakuni, near Yokohama, Japan, to Hong Kong on Jan. 28, 1951, on a support mission for the UN Command during the Korean War.

It crashed into Mt. Yuli at an altitude of around 1,600m after a navigational error made during bad weather, killing all 14 personnel onboard, including 7 RAF aircrew and another 7 ground crew. The bodies of the crew were never repatriated.

On Monday, the British Trade and Cultural Office (BTCO) erected a memorial near the crash site to honor the sacrifice made by these 14 British servicemen to coincide with Remembrance Sunday, the annual British day for mourning lost soldiers.

Derek Marsh, the director-general of the BTCO, and Simon Coy OBE, a former group captain in the RAF and now the Cornwall County president of the Royal British Legion, were the initiators of the memorial project, which took them nearly three years to complete through collaboration with local Aborigines, some of whom witnessed the crash 54 years ago.

Reconnaissance mission

Although it is not known whether any of those killed originated from Cornwall, Coy believes it is probable, given that a number of units based at RAF St. Mawgan and RAF St. Eval, Cornwall, were involved in maritime reconnaissance.

The Sunderland PP 107 flying boat was one of several British surveillance planes supporting UN and US naval operations against North Korea during the Korean War. Their main job was to provide surveillance over both coasts of the Korean peninsula and locate any North Korean ships or submarines. The anti-submarine flying boat was based in Singapore and every six weeks or so would fly back to the island-state for maintenance. The regular flight pattern involved breaking the journey in Hong Kong.

Out of the total of 14 airmen, all in their early 20s, the seven members of the flight crew included the two pilots, a navigator, an engineer, a wireless operator and two weapons systems operators, while the other seven were ground crew who were returning to Singapore to make way for replacements.

"They were going home. It was the end of their six-month tour, but they never got home. It's very sad because their families would have been waiting for them to come home after six long months. Many of the men wouldn't have been married, but some were," Coy said in an interview with the Taipei Times last week.

He flew from Britain especially to attend Monday's memorial service.

The remains of the airmen were never recovered due to the inaccessibility of the site and the mountainous terrain, as the plane crashed high above Chungping Village (中平), in Hualien's Chuohsi Township (卓溪).

"It crashed into the thick jungle on the mountainside and then exploded," recalled Huang Sheng-he (黃勝和), an 80-year old Bunun Aboriginal hunter who witnessed the crash and was involved in rescue efforts 54 years ago.

Huang, 25 at the time, said he heard a huge explosion as the plane crashed. The local police mobilized the villagers to help with rescue efforts but because of the difficult conditions, the bodies were simply buried under leaves on the side of the mountain. Later, many of the airplane's components, including twisted pieces of metal and the frame, were taken away and sold by local businessmen.

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