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GFS assists from the air


On May 17, a five-man team of the Government Flying Service (GFS), comprising Pilots, Aircrewman Officers and an Aircraft Engineer joined the air relief force at Guanghan airport, some 50 kilometres north of Chengdu. They worked with the Ministry of Transport rescue crews in various operations, including recovering survivors in mountainous regions, transporting ground search teams to remote sites where casualties were reported missing and transferring supplies to the casualties.


A GFS Super Puma helicopter fully equipped for search and rescue operations flew to Guanghan airport on May 23.


Ardis Tang Sing-tung, Senior Pilot with GFS said the most challenging aspects of the work were:

• high altitude mountain flying —— “We are talking about mountains double or triple the height of Tai Mo Shan —— at this altitude, aircraft become less responsive, less powerful. Accurate performance calculations and anticipation of control input were key.”

• unfamiliar environment —— “Maps were no longer accurate as the shapes of the mountains were damaged by the earthquake; rivers were blocked by the ‘quake lake’. Some valleys between the mountains were so narrow that the normal movement of an aircraft was restricted. Weather in the mountains was fast changing and could be unfriendly.”

• obstacle clearance —— “We were mainly tasked with executing rescues at the bottom of the deep valleys, so positioning the aircraft was already difficult due to the steep terrain. In addition, unknown wires and cables were very common, together with the hazards of rubbish blown up by the helicopter downwash.”


• off-base maintenance —— “Although our base of operations (Guanghan) was originally a flight training school, it had never been used to handle such a large-scale helicopter operation. Our engineers and technicians provided us with the best maintained machines with limited resources.”


Over the three-week deployment, the GFS team participated in 26 operations through which 96 casualties were brought to safety and 119 people transported to the disaster areas. Most of the 119 were members of ground search teams and specialists who monitored the condition of the quake lake in Tangjiashan.


One of the highlights of the team’s work was the rescue of two injured mine workers who had been trapped in the mountainous area of Mianzhu for over 19 days. Both men were lifted to safety by the GFS helicopter.

 

Public health experts fly in


Hong Kong’s public health professionals also played an important part in the relief efforts, with a 15-member team flying to Chengdu on May 19. The team, led by Principal Medical and Health Officer, Dr Mok Chiu-yau, comprised three doctors from the Department of Health, 10 Health Inspectors, Foreman and Workman grade officers from the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department (FEHD) and two Chemists from the Water Supplies Department (WSD).


The team helped implement infection control measures and environmental disinfection, and offered professional advice on identification of safe water sources for potable and domestic purposes and refuse collection at Yingxiu Town, one of the worst hit areas.

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