Taipei, Feb. 6 (CNA) Taiwan has suspended operations of the 38 remaining UH-60M Black Hawk helicopters in its fleet after one of the Black Hawks disappeared near Lanyu Island off the coast of eastern Taiwan late Monday night.
According to separate statements from the National Airborne Service Corps (NASC) and the Army Command Headquarters on Tuesday, their UH-60M Black Hawk helicopters have been grounded and will not be allowed to fly until a thorough inspection has been conducted.
The UH-60M Black Hawk that disappeared belonged to the NASC, leaving it with eight, and the Army has 30 of the choppers.
The missing helicopter was dispatched from Taitung County to Lanyu on a medical mission to pick up a patient.
It was heading back to Taitung when it lost contact with the control tower and disappeared from the radar screen three minutes after taking off at 11:48 p.m., according to the Ministry of the Interior.
Premier Lai Ching-te (賴清德) has made the search for the chopper a top priority and ordered relevant agencies to give it their full support, Cabinet spokesman Hsu Kuo-yung (徐國勇) said Tuesday.
The Aviation Safety Council said it has convened a special task force and will head to Taitung to assist with the search.
The NASC has also canceled a ceremony on Feb. 10 intended to celebrate two of its UH-60M Black Hawks being stationed and commissioned in Hualien County, saying the most pressing issue at present is to search for the missing helicopter and save those aboard.
There were six people on board the missing UH-60M Black Hawk — two pilots, an engineer, a flight nurse, the patient, and a family member of the patient.
An expert pilot who is familiar with the terrain near Lanyu said there is a lot of turbulence in the area, which makes taking off and landing difficult.
Weather reports also indicate that it was raining during the time the helicopter took off.
The pilot has been identified as Kang Wan-fu (康萬福), who graduated from the R.O.C. Naval Academy in 1989 and has 3,506 hours of total flying experience, including 148 hours on the UH-60M Black Hawk helicopter.
Taiwan’s military has purchased a total of 60 Black Hawk helicopters from the U.S. at a cost of US$84.67 billion to replace its aging UH-1H Huey utility helicopters.
Originally to be used by the Army only, the government later decided to designate 15 of them for the NASC to boost its rescue capabilities.
Currently the NASC has taken delivered of nine of them, while the remaining six will be delivered in partial shipments until 2020.
Another 15 of the choppers, meanwhile, will be turned over to the Air Force to replace S-70C helicopters that have been used for 30 years, leaving only 30 to the Army.
The Army on December 2017 officially commissioned its UH-60M Black Hawk combat team after completing the verification of the helicopter fleet’s initial combat capability.
(By Kuan-lin Liu, Joseph Yeh, Liu Lee-jung, Lu Hsin-hui, Ku Chuan, Lee Shien-feng, Tyson Lu and Wang Shu-feng)