January 02, 2020

Taiwan military chief among eight dead in helicopter wreck
Taiwan was plunged into mourning on Thursday after its top military official died alongside seven others in a helicopter crash in a mountainous area near the capital, Taipei, in the north of the island.  General Shen Yi-ming, ,62, had been on a routine mission to visit troops in Yilan county ahead of the Lunar New Year when his UH-60M Black Hawk disappeared from radar less than 15 minutes after taking off at 8:07am, the defence ministry confirmed. Pictures released by emergency authorities showed the chopper’s mangled wreckage, blades shattered into pieces, where it had crashed into a forest shrouded in mist. Out of the 13 on board, five miraculously survived.  The crash occurred the week before Taiwan’s general election, when incumbent President Tsai Ing-wen, known as a strong US ally, will face off against Han Kuo-yu of the Kuomintang party, which has advocated for closer ties with China.  Both candidates immediately called off campaign activities until the weekend, with President Tsai travelling to Yilan to offer support to rescue teams.  Air Force General Shen Yi-ming died in the incident Posting on her Facebook page, Ms Tsai expressed sorrow that Taiwan had lost several excellent officers, including General Shen, who was “an outstanding, competent general” who was “loved and esteemed by everyone.” She urged the defence secretary to quickly establish the exact cause of the incident.  Hsiung Hou-chi, an air force Lieutenant General, told an afternoon press conference that the defence ministry had set up a taskforce to investigate and dispatched ground troops and rescue helicopters.  “We are investigating whether [the cause] was environmental or mechanical,” he said, but added that the helicopter’s condition was “not ideal.”  For several hours, the fate of General Shen remained uncertain. He was reported to have been initially found conscious by a fire department search team but later died in hospital.  As a graduate of Taiwan's Air Force Academy in 1979 and the US Air War College in 2002, he had served as air force commander, before taking office as chief of general staff in July last year. The role put him at the heart of maintaining Taiwan’s military capabilities in the face of increasing threats from neighbouring China.   Rescue workers searched the remains of the Black Hawk helicopter at a mountainous area near Taipei Beijing wants to annex the island, which functions like any other democratic nation with its own military, currency and elections, and China has made clear it will do so by force if necessary.  “[His death] is a great loss for our country,” Andrew Yang, a former defence minister told The Telegraph. “He was a highly accomplished officer and highly respected... he made great efforts to maintain the high alert and readiness of the military.” Rupert Hammond-Chambers, president of the US-Taiwan Business Council, said General Shen was also instrumental in maintaining Taipei’s strong relations with Washington. “[He] had emerged as the pre-eminent leader of the evolving military response to the challenge the People’s Republic of China poses to the island’s freedom and democracy,” he said.  “He was a top candidate for minister of national defense in a second Tsai term. He had excellent relationships within his own military and in the US and was highly respected. He was also a kind and personable man steeped in humility.” The United States, which has no formal diplomatic ties with Taiwan, but is its strongest international backer and main arms supplier, sold the island 60 UH-60M Black Hawk helicopters in 2010. It is not known if the crashed helicopter was one of them.  However, the incident was the latest in a series of aviation accidents in Taiwan, after the 2018 crash of a Black Hawk helicopter off its east coast killed six people aboard and the crash of an F-16 fighter jet killed a pilot the same year. In 2016, the navy fired a supersonic missile in error, hitting a fishing boat in waters that separate Taiwan from diplomatic rival China. Ross Feingold, an Asia political risk analyst, said the tragedy would inevitably feed into public debate about military preparedness. “There are a number of issues that are not resolved, whether recruitment, retention, maintenance or mission creep,” he said.
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