Taiwan’s military chief dies in helicopter crash days before elections
TAIPEI : Taiwan's military chief was killed in a helicopter crash yesterday, the Defence Ministry said, just days before the island goes to polls to elect a new president.
Chief of General Staff Shen Yi-ming was among eight senior officers - including three major-generals - who died when their Black Hawk helicopter smashed into mountains near Taipei.
The 62-year-old general and his entourage were on a routine mission to visit soldiers in northeast Yilan county for the upcoming Chinese New Year when the incident happened.
Flags at all military units will fly at half-mast for three days as Gen Shen was the highest-ranking military official to die while on official duty, the government said.
Lieutenant-General Tsao Ching Ping, one of five survivors, told rescuers in footage broadcast on local TV: "I am okay... two others are injured and only I can walk.
"There is one more person who's more seriously wounded and two or three people in the cabin ... while two more with no signs of life."
President Tsai Ing-wen's office said she will cancel all campaign activities for three days after the tragedy.
The ruling Democratic Progressive Party will also suspend campaigning for three days.
Ms Tsai is seeking a second term against Kaohsiung city mayor Han Kuo-yu of the Kuomintang (KMT) party in the Jan 11 elections when Taiwan will also elect a new Parliament.
Mr Han and the KMT also expressed condolences to the victims and announced they will stop campaigning for two days.
"Today is a day that we are deeply saddened because several of our most distinguished generals died while on official duty," Ms Tsai said at a briefing for the incident.
The UH-60M helicopter with 13 people disappeared from radar less than 15 minutes after take-off, said Air Force commander Hsiung Hou-chi, adding the ministry has set up a task force to investigate the incident.
"We are investigating whether (the cause) was environmental or mechanical," he said.
The ministry has dispatched ground troops and rescue helicopters to the crash site in north-eastern Taiwan.
It said survivors will be carried off the mountains for treatment rather than being air-lifted due to bad weather. - AFP