A pilot lost his arm in a helicopter crash at the Kinmen Shang-I Airport early yesterday morning. The BK-177 model chopper, owned by Sunrise Airlines Co (中興航空), had been assigned by the Kinmen County Health Bureau to carry a patient in critical condition to Taipei.
It arrived at the Taipei Songshan Airport at 8:40pm on Friday night and departed again at around 10:30pm. The helicopter crashed at 12:02am, less than 50m from the runway in Kinmen.
The 49-year-old pilot, Hsu Tzi-wen (�?�), suffered the severest injuries. Two-thirds of Hsu’s right arm was torn off in the crash. The missing arm was not retrieved until hours later, making it impossible for doctors to re-attach it.
Co-pilot Chen Shin-fang (陳信芳), 43, had lacerations on his scalp and face. Chou Chang-sheng (周昌生), 35, a paramedic, helped rescue Hsu and Chen from the wrecked helicopter.
The Civil Aeronautics Administration (CAA) said in a statement that Hsu’s total flight time exceeded 6,400 hours, and more than 3,400 hours were spent flying BK-177 aircraft.
Officials were forced to shut down the airport after the accident as they waited for representatives from the Aviation Safety Council (ASC) to collect evidence before they could remove the damaged aircraft.
Hundreds of passengers were stranded at the airport for hours.
A helicopter carrying two ASC representatives was sent to the scene, but was delayed by low visibility. Airport officials in Kinmen eventually photographed the scene themselves and faxed the pictures to the ASC to secure approval to remove the damaged aircraft.
The Kinmen Airport did not reopen until 1pm yesterday. The ASC representatives arrived in Kinmen later in the afternoon.
Kinmen Airport Office director Hong Nien-chi (洪念慈) said it was negotiating with Mandarin Airlines (華信航空), Uni Air (立榮航空) and TransAsia Airways to add additional flights to their schedule to facilitate the transportation of stranded passengers.
Local media reports said the helicopter crew left Taipei despite being told that visibility in Kinmen was only 500m. They also said that contracts between Sunrise and the Kinmen County Government required that the helicopter return to Kinmen after dropping off the patients in the hospitals in Taiwan proper.
The minimum safe altitude for helicopters is about 1,500m.
Thomas Wang (王興中), head of ASC’s investigative team, refused to say if the accident was caused by poor visibility.
“It’s still too early to say,” he said, adding that investigators were still gathering evidence.