TAIPEI, TAIWAN - Taiwan’s top military official was among eight people killed Thursday after the helicopter carrying them made a forced landing in a mountainous area near the capital Taipei, the defense ministry said.
The main portion of the helicopter lay in a northern forest wreathed in mist, with its blades shattered into pieces, as dozens of rescuers combed the wreckage for survivors, pictures released by emergency authorities showed.
The chief of general staff, Air Force General Shen Yi-ming, died in the incident, while five of the 13 people aboard survived, the military said in a statement.
“Eight of our colleagues were killed,” a military spokesman told a news conference broadcast live on television.
Rescuers on site
The defense ministry said it had dispatched a rescue team following the Black Hawk helicopter’s forced landing in New Taipei City, after aviation authorities lost contact with the craft at 8:22 a.m.
The helicopter had left Taipei on a mission to visit soldiers in the northeast county of Yilan ahead of Lunar New Year at month’s end.
The incident comes a week before democratic Taiwan holds presidential and parliamentary elections Jan. 11.
President Tsai Ing-wen, who is seeking re-election, canceled all campaign activities until Saturday, and urged authorities to make every effort at rescue.
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 U.S. F-16V fighter.
Alexander Huang, a strategic studies professor 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.
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.
China, which claims Taiwan as its territory to be brought under Beijing’s control by force if necessary, regularly calls the island the most sensitive issue in its ties with the United States.
Taiwan says it is an independent country called the Republic of China, its official name.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.