Brave pilot brushes off perils of rescue mission in typhoon
The weather conditions were atrocious although only a No 3 typhoon warning was in force. But a search-and-rescue operation had to be mounted because 28 lives were in the balance on a drifting barge.
When Typhoon Prapiroon slammed into the city last year, Captain George Lee Chun-chi was one of the members of the Government Flying Service who took part in the successful rescue.
'I was responsible for locating the wreck and survivors,' said the pilot, a veteran of 17 years, recalling the operation in his fixed-wing Jetstream 41 aircraft to save the crew of the drifting barge, Hai Yang Shi You 298, on August 3.
'The aircraft got really close to the eye of the storm and the weather was too hostile for planes to land or take off at Chek Lap Kok when we came back from the mission.'
Captain Lee was awarded a bronze Medal for Bravery in the 2007 honours list, which hailed his 'great leadership, courage and excellent skill ... despite the danger to himself'.
The pilot dismissed all talk of the danger he encountered, saying his training had prepared him.
'It is very difficult for someone who isn't trained, but we are prepared for the difficulties,' Captain Lee said.
The Government Flying Service received 1,421 call-outs for its three major duties - search and rescue, casualty evacuation and firefighting - in the first eight months of this year.
Figures for casualty evacuation have increased in recent years from 1,480 call-outs in 2004 to 1,606 last year. By August this year, a total of 1,112 had been recorded.
Ryan Lo Yiu-wah, assistant manager (operation) of the unit, said this could be explained by the better coverage of the mobile phone network in country parks and more people seeking help when they felt ill.
But he said the service could be abused. 'We've experienced some cases in which people treated us as flying taxis and demanded to get off in Kowloon,' he said.
The flying service will hold an open day at its Chek Lap Kok headquarters on November 18 to display aircraft and other equipment, including the fixed-wing J41 and the Dolphin and Super Puma helicopters.
A public demonstration of low-level formation flying by two J41 planes will be given for the first time along with helicopter rescue demonstrations. Free tickets will be available from district offices and public inquiry service centres from November 1.