A firefighting helicopter that was supporting search operations for the missing of the Sewol ferry sinking at Paengmok port in Jindo, South Jeolla Province, crashed in downtown Gwangju, a nearby city, killing all five on board and injuring one female high school student. The crashed helicopter was part of the Gangwon Fire Headquarters, on its way back to Gangwon Province in east Korea from Gwangju. All five firefighters on board, Jeong Seong-cheol, Park In-don, Ahn Byeong-gook, Shin Yeong-ryong, and Lee Eun-gyo all perished in the line of duty. It is sad that divers and firefighters have died while supporting search operations for the missing in the Sewol ferry sinking.
The helicopter crashed on the roads inside an apartment complex surrounded by apartment buildings, a school, and a shopping center, which could have led to a large-scale tragedy. When crashing, the helicopter had a more than 10 meter-tall fire column and fragments going more than 100 meters away, smashing the windows of the shopping center. According to witnesses, the pilots appear to have made efforts to find a place on which to crash to avoid the apartment buildings and the school. The five firefighters stayed faithful to their duty to the end to prevent innocent sacrifices.
When a helicopter crashes, it often leads to other human lives lost. This makes more necessary even more thorough safety monitoring. In November 2013, an LG Electronics helicopter crashed into a luxury high-rise apartment building in affluent southern Seoul, killing two pilots. Downtown buildings are becoming taller and yet helicopter pad operations or control systems are flimsy, which could be ascribed of another similar accident. Back in last November, the Transportation Ministry said it would come up with helicopter-related measures, but in just seven months, another incident has occurred. The cause of the crash just four minutes after taking off at Gwangju Airport and inside an apartment complex should be identified.
The five firefighters were on their way back to Gangwon Fire Headquarters after supporting a search for the missing in the Sewol ferry sinking in Paengmok port, Jindo. Of the 39,000 firefighters nationwide, excluding 322 in the central government posts, they are mostly employed by local governments. Yet when incidents occur in other jurisdictions, they are deployed as support staff. A crash has occurred when firefighters have been on a signature-collecting drive to change their status to belong to the central government. There were two firefighting helicopters in Gangwon Province. With this crash, there remains just one. It is even sadder that such a sacrifice happens before the hurt of the Sewol tragedy has healed. Authorities should be safety-conscious more stringently to prevent more human losses at the site of the Sewol sinking.