NATIONAL

[Newsmaker] Crash fuels concerns over safety of firefighting helicopters

By Jo He-rim
  • Published : Dec 2, 2018 - 17:00
  • Updated : Dec 2, 2018 - 17:55

Following the crash of a firefighting helicopter Saturday, concerns are rising over the safety of the aircraft, which are decades old.

After taking off from Gimpo Airport at 10:52 a.m. Saturday, a helicopter belonging to the Korea Forest Service crashed into the Han River near Gangdong Bridge at around 11:20 a.m. The helicopter was filling its water tank there, to put out a fire on Yeongchuksan in Nowon, Seoul. The accident left one dead and two injured.

Authorities dismantle a helicopter after retrieving from the Han River near Gangdong Bridge on Sunday. (Yonhap)
On Sunday, the authorities started to dissemble the recovered helicopter to facilitate its transportation to Gimpo Airport for investigation.

The helicopter was a Russian Kamov KA-32 model, used for extinguishing big mountain fires.

Concerns are rising over the old Russian model, which was put into service in 1997, as this is not the first accident involving the same model. On Nov. 23, 2009, a helicopter of the same model crashed and killed three during training in Yeongam, South Jeolla Province. After hitting high-tension wires, a helicopter of the same model also crashed, killing one, on May 8 last year.

According to the Korea Forest Service, it currently operates 47 helicopters of different models, which are dispatched to11 headquarters across the country. Among the 47 helicopters, 64 percent, or 30 of them are KA-32.

Helicopter safety and management issues have been pointed out for years. According to the data received by Rep. Park Wan-joo of the Democratic Party of Korea in September, the number of maintenance staff at Korea Forest Service was 76, which means each helicopter is managed by 1.7 people -- going far below that of other government bodies, such as 2.7 persons for the National Police Agency and 3.1 persons for the National Fire Agency.

Meanwhile, the authorities said they would inspect the helicopter and also obtain statements from the injured victims after they have recovered.

A funeral ceremony for the victim, surnamed Yoon, will be held Monday morning.

The 57-year-old captain surnamed Kim and Vice Captain Min were rescued and are being treated at a nearby hospital. The rescue team found a technician surnamed Yoon, 43, suffering an apparent cardiac arrest, at about 12:40 p.m., an hour and 20 minutes after the crash. They took him to a nearby hospital and attempted cardiopulmonary resuscitation, but he died.

By Jo He-rim (herim@heraldcorp.com)