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B-234, best weapon in National Airborne Service Corps’ alpine rescue arsenal

  • Release Date:2016-05-05
  • Source:NASC

“One person saved is one family saved.” The air crew of B-234 Chinook of National Airborne Service have to fly tens of thousands feet above sea level in the freezing air for mountain rescue missions. These heroes who are always giving without taking have no regrets, and they always overcome difficulties and get the job done with safety as the priority and by giving everything they have.
The Corps operates 3 B-234 Chinook helicopters. These helicopters were made by Boeing and rolled out the production in Jul 1985. They were operated by the Army’s Special Forces Command, transferred to the Airborne Firefighters of National Fire Agency in 2002, and have been serving as workhorses for the National Airborne Service Corps since its establishment in 2004. B-234 is designed for high altitude search and rescue missions as well as transportation of personnel and supplies in large quantity. The cabin is capable of carrying 44 fully equipped people or 4,100kg of payload, or hoisting 6,000kg under its belly for up to 4.5 hours in the air. However, B-234 is not designed to operate or land at a tight space due to its large size and strong downwashes.
Instructor Li, Kuang-Chao, who has been a crew chief of B-234 for years, remembered a mission he flew a few years ago. It was Jul 23 1014. 6 mountain hikers were stranded near the Guangtoushan of Batongguang at Renai, Nantou as Typhoon Matmo swept across Taiwan. It was a very difficult mission as the rainfall was strong and brutal, the cloud cover was hanging low and the helicopter was tossed around by powerful turbulences. The crew searched back and forth along the ridge line and finally found where the hikers settled down. A quick survey of the scene revealed that it was difficult to land directly at the spot, and the crew decided to try the three-point landing at a nearby somewhat flat area where it was easier for the onboard rescue specialists to guide the hikers into the cabin. One of the rescued hikers said they were not expected a typhoon. Several adult hikers and a kid who tagged along started having fevers probably due to the heavy rainfall. All their clothing and food were soaking wet. They just could not thank the helicopter crew enough for the rescue.
Li also remembered he flew 3 days straight for firefighting. May 17 2015, a fire broke out in the trees in the vicinity of National Chi Nan University in Nantou, and May 18 and 19 another fire broke out at compartments 102 and 108 of Yujing forestry zone at Nanhua Tainan. These fires were in mountainous areas where winds were strong. Smoke covered the nearby areas. It was difficult for the crew to maneuver the helicopter while dropping water on the fire. Fortunately, the teamwork of the firefighters on the ground and the air crew paid off and the fires were down and extinguished at the end. This year (2016) on Mar 26, a 4-hiker team from Taichung and another 7-hiker team from Chiayi were both trapped above the ridge line of Jundongshan in Nantou due to expected snow fall. The food was running short for the hikers and some of them started showing signs of hypothermia. The top of the entire mountain was covered in snow and the steep ridgeline added extra difficulties to the rescue mission. However, the air crew worked as a team to rescue them all.
The big B-234s will be retiring from the Corps at the end of Jun 2016 and replaced by UH-60M Blackhawks. The data shows that B-234s have rescued 87 people, carried 465, transported 5,760kg of supplies, flew 213 water-dropping sorties and dropped as much as 1,406 tons of water in a period of nearly 3 years.