Two pilots of a Taiwanese military helicopter were killed on Thursday when their aircraft crash-landed at an air force base in the north of the island.
The OH-58D helicopter was on its way home after taking part in the annual Han Kuang military exercise when it crashed at the base in Hsinchu and caught fire, according to official reports.
“The OH-58D observation and reconnaissance aircraft, which belonged to the army’s 601st Aviation Brigade, returned from a drill in the third operation zone and crash-landed at the Hsinchu air force base for reasons unknown,” the defence ministry said in a statement.
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“Chief pilot Major Chien Jen-chuan and co-pilot Captain Kao Chia-lung were rushed to hospital for treatment but died from their injuries,” it said.
The crash happened as the helicopter was making an unexpected return to Hsinchu just minutes after taking off from there bound for its home base in Lungtan, it said.
Major General Chang Tai-sung, the head of 601st Aviation Brigade, was quoted by the semi-official Central News Agency as saying the stricken aircraft had stopped at the Hsinchu airbase to refuel on its way home after taking part in the drill.
“But two minutes after the helicopter took off, at an altitude of about 300-400 metres [980-1,300 feet], the chief pilot reported an excessively low rotor speed. Under standard operating procedures, he should have made an emergency landing, but the aircraft was already outside the airbase and was flying over civilian residences,” he said.
“The pilot chose to turn 180 degrees to the left to make a forced landing at the airbase, but because of the extremely low rotor speed, he was unable to make it, resulting in the helicopter making a crash-landing.”
The defence ministry statement said the army command had set up a committee to investigate the cause of the accident and ordered all OH-58Ds to be grounded until further notice.
The Taiwanese military said earlier that the aircraft was one of 39 OH-58Ds the air force had bought from American manufacturer Bell Helicopter.
Thursday’s accident is the third involving such an aircraft in the past two years, but the first to have led to the loss of life.
In May, an OH-58D sustained slight damage and its two pilots suffered minor injuries after making a hard landing at a military base in Tainan.
In January, Taiwan’s military chief of staff, Shen Yi-ming, and seven others were killed when a Black Hawk helicopter crashed in a mountainous region of New Taipei county.
Taiwanese officials said the investigation into that accident – one of the worst in the air force’s history – could take a year to complete.
Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen expressed her grief at the death of the pilots, saying it was a big loss to the military. She called on the relevant agencies to provide support to their families.
Earlier on Thursday, Tsai inspected part of the Han Kuang exercise and said the annual war game was intended to “let the world witness our determination and efforts to safeguard our own land”.
The helicopter pilots are not the only casualties of the annual military exercise. During a rehearsal for the event earlier this month, a marine died after the raiding craft he was in with six colleagues overturned in bad weather off the coast of Kaohsiung. Three other marines required hospital treatment.
Meanwhile, the navy reported that the supervisor of the marine group – who had not been directly involved in the exercise – was found dead soon after the fatal incident. It said he had taken his own life, but there was no evidence to substantiate that claim.
The incident did, however, prompt the cancellation of the raiding drill during the Han Kuang war games.
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This article Taiwanese military helicopter crashes, killing two pilots first appeared on South China Morning Post