|(left to right)|
Jimmy Kwan, aircraft engineer;
Bowie Fung, senior pilot;
Philip Ho, aircrewman officer
Government Flying Service
Photo: Edde Ngan
Rescue team scales new heights
Specialist training, team work and a keen sense of mission were the key factors that enabled the Hong Kong's Government Flying Service (GFS) to carry out a successful rescue and relief mission following the devastating earthquake in Sichuan province last year.
As one of Hong Kong's disciplined services, part of GFS's main responsibility is to conduct search and rescue operations within the 400 nautical mile radius of the Hong Kong flight information region as well as the vast area of responsibility overseen by the Marine Department. The GFS also assists with Aeronautical Rescue and Coordination Centre and Maritime Rescue and Coordination Centre missions.
"The Sichuan operation was our longest and most remote to date," says Bowie Fung, a senior GFS pilot (line). Captain Fung adds that the service, for the first time ever, moved its operations base from Hong Kong to Sichuan for the relief effort. "The steep valleys and high mountains in the disaster zone made our mission extremely challenging," he recalls.
Captain Fung started preparing for a probable rescue mission straight after the disaster struck. He was one of a five-person GFS team comprising pilots, aircrewman officers and an engineer that arrived in Chengdu five days after the earthquake.
"Being able to make a contribution was a real honour," notes Philip Ho, an aircrewman officer II (acting), who was a member of the rescue team.
The GFS team started helping to move supplies as soon as they arrived at the Guanghan command centre near Chengdu. While waiting for the GFS helicopter to arrive, the team started to inspect the terrain and conditions to prepare for the mission.
During the 10-day relief effort, the team rescued injured mine workers in a mountainous region, transported ground search teams to remote sites where casualties were reported and transferred supplies to victims.
Jimmy Kwan, a GFS aircraft engineer (airframe/engine), was among the second batch of GFS crewmembers to arrive in Sichuan. "It took us almost 10 hours to fly from Hong Kong to Sichuan—the longest helicopter flight I've ever experienced," he says.
He remembers being deeply affected by the scenes that he encountered in the earthquake area, as well as by the compassion shown to the victims by the many volunteer relief workers from different parts of mainland China.
Over the 21-day mission, the GFS crews, including 16 pilots, aircrewman officers and four engineers, were involved in 26 operations, rescuing a total of 96 people and delivering 10.7 tons of supplies. The team also transported 119 ground search team members and specialists to the earthquake area to monitor the condition of the "quake lake" - one formed by mudslides following the disaster, in Tangjiashan.
The GFS team's contribution in the Sichuan disaster rescue mission was recognised this year with a Specialised Service Award in the 2009 Civil Service Outstanding Service Award Scheme presented by the Civil Service Bureau.
"The award underscores and celebrates the significance of team spirit," says Captain Fung. "After 20 of us left for Sichuan, the crew members remaining in Hong Kong cancelled their days off in order to maintain our usual 24-hour emergency response service," he notes, adding that support from the Hong Kong headquarters was vital to the GFS Sichuan relief effort.
Mr Kwan also relied strongly on the daily analysis sent from Hong Kong to ensure safe operating conditions for the helicopter.
"It's important for crew members to have trust in each other during a rescue operation," Captain Fung stresses. "Although it seemed that the helicopter had been pushed to its limit, we had faith in our engineers' skills."
Mr Ho agrees, emphasising that it is also crucial for pilots and aircrewman officers to work closely together. "Since the pilots couldn't see the situation on the ground, they followed the aircrewman officer's directions to steer the helicopter to facilitate the rescue," he explains.
With fewer than 100 flight crew staff, GFS fosters close ties with each other through daily communication and routine training. "We are all team players, but we are able to be leaders, share ideas and solve problems whenever necessary," Captain Fung says. "Every rescue mission entails a certain level of risk but the opportunities to serve the public have made my life more meaningful."
Reaching for the sky
Taken from Career Times 18 December 2009, p. A13
- Specialist skills make positive contribution to society
- Trust and teamwork key to successful rescue operations
- Government award recognises compassion and team spirit