Taiwan top general killed in helicopter crash

  • January 2, 2020

A rescue team searches for missing military officers, after a Black Hawk helicopter made a forced landing at a mountainous area near Taipei, Taiwan January 2, 2020. Yilan County Fire Bureau/Handout via REUTERS

Taiwan’s top general has been confirmed dead after a helicopter made an emergency landing in northern Taiwan, the defence ministry has said, just days before the island goes to polls to elect a new president.

Chief of general staff General Shen Yi-ming and seven other people were killed after the UH-60M Black Hawk helicopter crashed in mountains near Taipei on Thursday, according to defence ministry spokesman Shih Shun-wen.

Shen, 62, and several top military officials were on a routine mission to visit soldiers in the northeast Yilan county before the lunar new year later this month.

For a few hours following the crash, the fate of Taiwan’s top general was unclear, with conflicting reports claiming that he was among the five people who survived, while another said he remained missing.

Five others have been rescued.

“Five have survived while the other eight of our colleagues on board were killed. We are deeply saddened … and give our condolences to their families,” Air Force Commander Hsiung Hou-chi told reporters.

Ross Feingold, Asia political risk analyst told Al Jazeera from Taipei, Taiwan that since the location is somewhat remote, it will take some time to conduct a proper investigation.

“The weather in northern Taiwan is quite good today, so at least initially it doesn’t appear to be weather related; it may be mechanical related,” Feingold said.

Election issue

Feingold told Al Jazeera the accident involving senior leadership will be part of political discussion as Taiwan gears up for elections set for January 11.

President Tsai Ing-wen’s office announced that she will cancel all campaign activities for three days after the tragedy.

“As commander-in-chief President Tsai and the cabinet team will focus on the rescue operations as well as clarifying the cause of the incident,” it said in a statement.

Tsai is seeking a second term against Kaohsiung city mayor Han Kuo-yu of the Kuomintang (KMT) party in the January 11 elections when Taiwan will also elect a new parliament. (Aljazeera)