Taiwan’s Chief of the General Staff Killed In Helicopter Crash

The Ministry of National Defence of the Republic of China has confirmed the death of eight occupants, including the Chief of the General Staff, Air Force General Shen Yi-ming, in the crash of a Republic of China Air Force (ROCAF) UH-60M Black Hawk on the morning of 2 January 2020. The helicopter crashed in the mountainous Wulai District of New Taipei City in the north of Taiwan.

The UH-60M, registration number 933, had departed from Songshan Air Force Base in Taipei at 7:53AM local time. It was flying to a military base in Dongao, Yilan County for a pre-Chinese New Year inspection. In a press conference, General Hsiung Hou-chi, commander in chief of the ROCAF, stated that the last communication with the crew of the helicopter took place at 8:06AM, with the helicopter disappearing from radar at 8:07AM. The helicopter was on a bearing of 105 degrees over the Wulai District when it disappeared from radar, 14 minutes after taking off.

Rescue team personnel at the crash site of the helicopter. Photo courtesy Taiwan National Fire Agency

Search and rescue efforts commenced following the loss of contact with the UH-60M, with the rescue team arriving at the crash site at 1:30PM. Five survivors were found at the crash site near Tonghou Creek, with the remaining eight occupants declared dead in the field. Bad weather around the crash site prevented the evacuation of survivors by helicopter, forcing the rescue team to evacuate them using muddy and steep mountain roads.

Asides from General Shen, the other occupants of the helicopter that perished in the crash were:

  • Political Warfare Bureau Deputy Director Major General Yu Chin-wen
  • Major General Hung Hung-chun of the Office of the Deputy Chief of the General Staff for Intelligence
  • Major Huang Sheng-hang of the Office of the Chief of the General Staff
  • Chief Inspector General Sergeant Han Cheng-hung
  • Lieutenant Colonel Yeh Chien-yi, pilot of the helicopter
  • Captain Liu Chen-fu, co-pilot of the helicopter
  • Master Sergeant Hsu Hung-pin, crew chief of the helicopter

The survivors of the crash are:

  • Major General Huang Yu-min, the newly appointed Deputy Chief of Logistics of the General Staff Headquarters
  • Sergeant Chen Ying-chu, a reporter for the Military News Agency
  • Major General Tsao Chin-ping, Deputy Chief of the General Staff for Communications-Electronics and Information
  • Major General Liu Hsiao-tang, Accounting Office Director
  • Chief of Staff Lieutenant Colonel Chou Hsin-i
Ministry of National Defence graphic memorializing the deceased

President Tsai Ing-wen cancelled her itinerary for the day to monitor the rescue efforts. She has ordered all military agencies to fly the national flag at half mast for three days to mourn the deceased. In a Facebook post following her arrival in Yilan County, she wrote:

“Chief of the General Staff Shen Yi-ming was an outstanding, competent general, as well as a chief loved and esteemed by everyone. His departure has left us with tremendous wistfulness and sorrow.”

President Tsai Ing-wen consoles General Shen’s widow

A special task force is to be formed to investigate the causes of the crash. Following the crash, all 44 UH-60s currently in service with the Republic of China Army and Air Force, as well as eight operated by the National Air Service Corps have been grounded. According to a military spokesman, the Army and Air Force helicopters will have their dynamic, radar and control systems checked, as well as their fuselage structures.

CNA file photo of General Shen

General Shen was a popular leader in the Taiwanese military, and was highly respected throughout his career. He was appointed as Chief of the General Staff in July 2019, after serving as Deputy Minister of Defense. In his previous post, he oversaw the procurement of upgrades for 144 of the ROCAF’s F-16s to F-16V standard.

The crash comes nine days before Taiwanese presidential elections on the 11th January. The three main candidates for president have announced halts in campaigning following the crash, with President Tsai’s Democratic Progressive Party announcing that it would suspend its campaign from Thursday through Saturday. Both the opposition Kuomintang and People First Party have suspended their campaigning for two days as well.

Lead image credit: 藍健軒