First all-female airborne rescue team eager for takeoff

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 02 September, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 02 September, 2007, 12:00am

They may not have worked together yet as a team, but the three female crew of the Government Flying Service say it is only a matter of time before they join forces to become Hong Kong's first all-female airborne search-and-rescue crew.

The three are the only women to be admitted to the service's 60-member aircrew since its transformation from the Royal Hong Kong Auxiliary Air Force in 1993.

Ellen Yan Suk-yin, 36, became the first female cadet pilot in 1996 and is now the only female captain. Asked about her ambitions in her job interview, she said: 'I want to become the first female helicopter pilot in Hong Kong.' And she did.

Captain Yan, a former volunteer soldier in the old Royal Hong Kong Regiment, trained in guns and has represented Hong Kong in various shooting competitions, including the Asian Games.

'I hope more women will join the unit,' said Captain Yan, now accompanied by co-pilot Emily Wong Wing-yin, 25, and crew member Wong Lai-ming, 27, who have been on the search-and-rescue team for two and five years respectively.

West Wai-hung Wu, a senior unit pilot, said women made up about 40 per cent of applicants for aircrew positions in recent years, but just one or two recruits were signed up each year. The requirements for men and women applicants are the same.

Although Captain Yan and Wong Lai-ming have been rescue partners many times, the three women have not had a chance to fly together because of their rota. 'I think an all-woman search-and-rescue team will appear soon,' Captain Yan said.

Being a woman can be an advantage on the job, according to frontline rescuer Wong Lai-ming. On April 1 her strength and prowess was tested when she helped to rescue a hiker who had fallen 50 metres from Lion Rock. She was dangled over the steep slope to reach the hiker. The victim was winched to the helicopter, but was dead.

The job can be dangerous, she said, leading some fellow rescuers to assume she's a damsel in distress.

'Sometimes when firemen arrive at the site and see me, they come and offer me help ... Once, a fireman gave me a bottle of Chinese herbal tea and asked if I needed a rest.'

Emily Wong said she did not find it stressful. 'The job is not very hard for me. If you enjoy your work, you don't regard it as pressure.'