Helicopter cleaning pylons crashes, killing 2 people

TAIPEI, Taiwan - A helicopter tasked with cleaning utility pylons became tangled up with high-voltage power lines before crashing on a hillside in New Taipei City yesterday, killing both pilots on board.

The helicopter is owned by Emerald Pacific Airlines, which was contracted by the Taiwan Power Company to conduct cleaning of the electrical insulators of pylons.

It was the first fatal accident in 17 years since Taipower began to outsource the assignment. An investigation is underway to find out the exact cause of the accident.

The Bell 206 Jet Ranger crashed in Taishan District, New Taipei City, generating a loud noise. Local residents then reported the incident to authorities.

The New Taipei City Fire Department sent 63 personnel and 22 vehicles to the scene.

The pilot surnamed Chen and co-pilot Yu, aged 49 and 36, respectively, appeared to have been killed at the scene of the accident. They were rushed to a hospital for medical treatment to no avail.

There was no explosion or ensuing fire as a result of the crash and no houses in the area were affected

Cleaning in Response to Air Pollution

Emerald Pacific dispatched two helicopters to perform pylon cleaning as hazardous fine particulate matter smaller than 2.5 micrometers (PM2.5) spiked yesterday.

The cleaning work is routinely carried out on electrical insulators that connect pylons and power lines. Accumulated dust needs to be removed to ensure unrestricted electrical flow and energy conservation.

Due to their height and location, which are difficult to reach, helicopters are called into service and it is not an easy task. Helicopters must deftly veer among transmission towers. They also need to be up close to clean the insulators with water.

As salt blown from the sea accumulates fast, pylon towers located near the Tamsui River estuary require the most cleaning compared with those situated in cities or mountains.

Similar Accident Less Than a Year Ago

In the accident, which occurred in the morning, the helicopter hit a high-voltage 345 kilovolt transmission line. Following the accident, repair work was already under way and power supply was not interrupted, Taipower said.

A similar accident happened in December last year. Another Emerald Pacific helicopter, while conducting insulator cleaning in Changhua County, had to make an emergency landing in a rice paddy because of mechanical failure. The two pilots on board sustained light injuries.

Besides power system maintenance work, Emerald Pacific also performs airborne seeding and aerial photography. 

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