Helicopter crash kills Taiwan’s top military officer

TAIPEI, TAIWAN (AP) — Taiwan’s top military official was killed in an air force helicopter crash yesterday morning that killed seven other people, the Defence Ministry said. Five people survived the crash in mountains outside the capital.

As Chief of the General Staff, General Shen Yi-ming was responsible for overseeing the island’s defence.

The helicopter was flying from Taipei to the northeastern city of Ilan for a New Year’s activity when it crashed.

According to Taiwan’s Ministry of National Defence, 13 people were on the UH-60M Blackhawk helicopter, which took off from Taipei’s Songshan Air Force base on its way to a base in Yilan county. Just over 10 minutes later, it dropped from the radar screen and went down in the mountainous, heavily forested Wulai area southeast of the capital.

Relatives bow before portraits, including chief of the general staff Shen Yi-ming (L), of the victims killed during a helicopter crash at a funeral parlor in Taipei on January 3, 2020. – Taiwan’s military chief was killed in a helicopter crash on January 2, the defence ministry said, just days before the island goes to polls to elect a new president. (Photo: AFP)

Shen, 63, had taken over as chief of the general staff in July after serving as Commander of Taiwan’s Air Force, which is undergoing a substantial upgrade with the arrival of the most advanced version of the US F-16V fighter.

A Strategic Studies Professor Alexander Huang at Tamkang University in Taiwan who had known Shen for a decade, said he had stood out as a pilot and an officer.

“He was very calm and very stable and unlike other army guys he was always smiling, so he got a specific leadership style that also made him a popular leader in the entire military,” Huang said.

It will likely be months before the cause of the crash is known, but the pilots, both of whom were killed, appeared to have been highly experienced.

“Of course, reasonable people would think in the direction of mechanical failure or maintenance problem, but without proof you can’t say anything,” Huang said.