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HK rescuers fly victims out of danger
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Quake rescuer Tsoi Takman will never forget the Sichuan boy who guided his team to find the teen's father, who was trapped in a mountain area following the May 12 disaster in the province.

The 13-year-old boy left the area to seek help for his father, who had suffered a broken leg from the quake.

Liu Hongkun, a miner stranded in the mountains of Sichuan province for 19 days after the May 12 quake, is put on an ambulance yesterday in Chengdu.

After three days, the youth was finally directed to Guanghan Airport Headquarters, where airborne rescue services were available for quake victims.

Tsoi and three other colleagues took up the task of saving the youth's father.

"Without the boy, we would have never found the man," the 47-year-old Tsoi said.

Tsoi and his team are part of the Hong Kong Government Flying Service (HKGFS).

Tsoi's helicopter had to descend 400 m into the mountain valley to search for the victim.

Despite circling the site twice, the team's search proved futile.

But the rescuers soldiered on, because they did not want to let the boy down.

The team eventually spotted the boy's father - he had hidden under a vehicle to protect himself from aftershocks and landslides.

"There were so many cables and obstructions," Tsoi said.

"We had to land 100 m away. The survivors were given some basic medical treatment before being carried on board."

"Nothing is more satisfying than seeing a family's reunion. That is the best reward for our job," Captain Fung Bowie, one of the rescuers, said.

The Hong Kong rescue team is made up of eight members. Six members arrived on May 17, while two others joined the team a few days later, with a helicopter.

Yesterday, the rescuers were also able to airlift two injured coal miners to safety.

The miners had been stranded in the mountains of Qingping town for 19 days, reportedly with enough food and water to survive. The two were rushed to a hospital near Chengdu for treatment.

By yesterday, the Hong Kong crew had rescued 99 people from quake-hit areas.

They have also delivered more than 6.5 tons of relief supplies.

More than 30 helicopters have been working in quake relief efforts in Sichuan.

Only two of the aircraft are capable of winching survivors from the ground, and the Hong Kong team uses one of these.

"The biggest challenge for us at the moment is flying in the mountains at high altitudes," Fung said.

"Lots of damaged electrical wires and cables also obstruct the quake-hit areas. We need to see and avoid them before we can move into the areas."

There are further challenges.

A helicopter has two engines. When it is hovering in the air to lift up survivors, it requires more power.

"If one engine breaks down, we might not be able to fly away, because many mountains are sealed by mudslides while we are limited in power. We call this situation 'exposure time'," Fung said.

"In other words, the longer we stay in the mountainous areas, the more risks we take. So our task is to minimize the exposure time."

If the situation is too risky, the captain and his crew will take some photos first, then bring them back to the airport for analysis.

They will return to the scene soon after they find the best way to enter the affected areas and carry out their tasks.

The HKGFS performs all kinds of rescue missions, including saving people on mountains and in open seas. Normally, it takes about one and half hours for the team to complete a rescue operation in Sichuan.

The Hong Kong team flies to the afflicted areas about 1.5 times per day.

Like other airborne rescue teams, Tsoi and his colleagues work about 12 hours a day.

As an engineer of the team, Jimmy Kwan cannot fly with his colleagues on the rescue missions, but he does his best to support them at the airport.

"I really appreciate the opportunity to be here, as so many colleagues in Hong Kong were eager to join the team. We are all Chinese, and we should stand side by side to face such difficult times together," he said.

Fung has made few references to the hardship they face.

"It's our job," he said.

"We will never gain such a special life experience in Hong Kong we have learned a lot this time," he said.

(China Daily June 2, 2008)

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