TAIPEI • Taiwan's military chief was killed in a helicopter crash yesterday, the Defence Ministry said, just days before the island goes to the polls to elect a new president.
The Chief of the General Staff, General Shen Yi-ming, was among eight senior officers - including three major-generals - who died when their Black Hawk heli-copter smashed into a mountain near Taipei.
The 62-year-old general and his entourage were on a routine mission to visit soldiers in north-east Yilan county for the upcoming Chinese New Year when the incident happened.
Flags at all military units will fly at half-mast for three days as Gen Shen was the highest-ranking military official to die while on official duty, the government said.
Major-General Tsao Chin-ping, one of five survivors, told rescuers in footage broadcast on local TV: "I am okay... Only I can walk."
President Tsai Ing-wen's office said that she will cancel all campaign activities for three days after the tragedy.
Ms Tsai's ruling Democratic Progressive Party will also suspend campaigning for three days.
Ms Tsai is seeking a second term against Kaohsiung Mayor Han Kuo-yu of the China-friendly Kuo-mintang (KMT) in the Jan 11 elections, when Taiwan will also elect a new Parliament.
Mr Han and the KMT also expressed condolences to the victims and announced that they will stop campaigning for two days.
Ms Tsai said at a briefing on the incident: "Today is a day that we are deeply saddened because several of our most distinguished generals died while on official duty."
"I have asked the defence minister to maintain stable military morale at this time to ensure steady military and defence operations for the safety and stability of Taiwan," she added.
There have been a number of incidents involving Black Hawk helicopters - purchased from the United States - in recent years in Taiwan. In 2018, a helicopter belonging to a government rescue agency crashed during a medical mission off outlying Orchid Island, killing six people on board in an incident attributed to human error.
Washington has remained Taipei's most powerful unofficial ally and its leading arms supplier despite switching diplomatic recognition to Beijing in 1979.
"I was privileged to work closely with General Shen in our joint efforts to strengthen the US-Taiwan security relationship. With his keen insight and good humour, he was a valued leader, colleague and friend. He will be sorely missed," said American Institute in Taiwan's director Brent Christensen.
The UH-60M helicopter carrying 13 people disappeared from radar less than 15 minutes after taking off, said air force commander Hsiung Hou-chi, adding that the ministry had set up a task force to investigate the incident.