Volunteer fireman dies after mission

UNNECESSARY RISK?:Questions have been raised about the scale of the three-day search operation in rough seas. The fireman was not wearing a life vest

By Lin Chia-tung, Wen Yu-te and Jason Pan  /  Staff reporters, with staff writer

Wed, Nov 20, 2013 - Page 3

The notorious rough seas off the northeast coast claimed another life on Monday when a volunteer fireman was killed after his lifeboat capsized during a search mission off New Taipei City’s (新北市) Nanya (南雅) fishing port.

Wu Tsung-hung (吳宗鴻) and two other firefighters were returning to port when a 6m-high rogue wave struck the lifeboat

Witnesses said all three fell into water, but Wu was knocked unconscious by the capsized boat and drowned.

“We were heading back to the port, and were only 100 meters away, when this rogue wave came upon them. It was such a tragic accident,” said a team member surnamed Huang (黃), who was following the boat on a jet ski.

Wu’s companions managed to hold on to protruding reef rocks until they were able to be rescued.

However, the rescue team found Wu floating, with no signs of life.

Team members said Wu was only wearing a diving suit, since he had been deployed on a diving search operation, and was not wearing a life vest.

Juifang Township’s (瑞芳) fire department was called in to assist in the search for a man, surnamed Ou (歐), who had been washed into the sea on Friday last week as he was fishing from the shore.

The fire department dispatched its marine rescue teams along with two motorized rubber lifeboats to conduct searches from the Nanya port for three days.

Water-related accidents along the northeast coast have claimed a total of nine lives and injured scores more in the past 11 days. One person remains missing and is presumed drowned.

Wu’s death triggered criticism and questions from other marine rescue units and experts.

“Was it necessary to risk so many people, in such rough and dangerous sea conditions, on a search mission that had so little chance of success?” said a diving instructor who wished to remain anonymous.

The instructor, who has helped with marine rescue operations, said the coastline around the Nanya port is all rocky reefs with dangerous sea cliffs.

“When someone falls into the sea, the prevailing northeast monsoon winds and waves will push the body back toward the rocky reefs, and the victim is usually knocked unconscious,” he said.

“It is a very dangerous coastal zone. When rescuers are conducting operations there, they are putting themselves into considerable danger,” he said.

Additional reporting by Yu Chao-fu