Following a helicopter crash during a rescue mission late last month, the Executive Yuan is to finance a plan to install equipment for night flying on six of the 15 UH-60M Black Hawk helicopters designated for rescue purposes, Minister of the Interior Lee Hong-yuan (李鴻源) said yesterday.
Lee told a press conference following a Cabinet meeting that Premier Sean Chen (陳冲) has agreed to earmark NT$3 billion (US$102 million) to purchase the equipment as the National Airborne Service Corps (NASC) proceeds with a plan to acquire 15 UH-60M Black Hawk helicopters from the Ministry of National Defense.
The defense ministry plans to procure 60 UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters from the US between 2014 and 2019, and to provide the NASC with 15 UH-60s to replace its aging fleet of UH-1H rescue helicopters and Alouette B234 rescue helicopters.
However, questions have emerged regarding the lack of night-flying equipment on the procurement list.
A Sikorsky S-70C-6 rescue helicopter was sent out on March 26 to airlift a crew member from a fishing boat off the southeastern coast, but the chopper crashed into the sea off Lanyu (蘭嶼), also known as Orchid Island, leaving one serviceman injured and five missing. The S-70 is a civilian version of the Black Hawk.
The incident was the latest in a series of tragedies over the past few years that have raised concerns about the overuse of S-70C helicopters, the only choppers in the country capable of conducting sea rescue missions at night.
Critics have said that replacing UH-1Hs and B234 rescue helicopters with UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters without night-flying equipment would be of little help.