IntlSOS 30 Years - From East to West - Page 53



03 Beijing and Beyond | Our First Direct Flights from Mainland China to Taiwan
Major Milestone
We Make History:
Our First Direct Flights from
Mainland China to Taiwan
The first evacuation flights between mainland
China and Taiwan in 2006 were further major
milestones. We were the first company to
undertake such a transport and we still make the
most medical transports. Previously, due to the
very sensitive relationship between Taiwan and
mainland China, direct flights could not take place
so any medical transports had to go via Hong
Kong. Flying direct cuts several hours off the transit
time which can make all the difference when
transporting critically ill people.
The landmark agreement to allow air access to
chartered flights across the Taiwan Strait, for
emergency medical rescue, was signed by China’s
Cross-Straits Aviation Transport Exchange Council
and the Taipei Airlines Association on 14 June. We
had been actively lobbying authorities on both
sides of the Straits for this outcome for 18 months,
and our Medial Director at that time, Dr Tsai, was
highly instrumental in bringing this about.
We had the privilege of being the first private
organisation to be allowed to operate the route.
On 14 September a 72-year-old Taiwanese
man suffered a stroke while visiting relatives in
Dongguan, Guangdong Province. He was put
aboard a dedicated International SOS air
ambulance and so became part of the first
flight to cross the Straits directly since 1949.
This was quickly followed by the first mass
repatriation. On 11 September a tour bus was en
route from the Heilongjiang to Jilin province in
Northeast China, carrying 20 Taiwanese nationals.
It overturned and plunged into a river in Yanji.
The local emergency services went to the scene,
to transport the injured to the nearest hospital
in Yanbian. On hearing about the accident we
dispatched a doctor and an operations specialist
to help out at the hospitals. Three of the patients
were so seriously injured that it was decided to
evacuate them to Beijing for further treatment.
Our medical teams escorted them.
By 17 September, the remaining patients were ready
to return to Taiwan. As many were seriously injured,
an Airbus 320 was chartered from Taiwan and
converted into an air ambulance. It had stretchers,
intensive-care equipment and oxygen supplies, plus
seats for those patients with lighter injuries, and
family members. To help with this major operation
we brought in teams from Beijing, Taipei and Hong
Kong, including six doctors, eight nurses and two
operations specialists.
On 19 September, eight days after the crash,
14 patients (five of them on stretchers) and their
families, plus the medical support team, took off on
the pioneering flight from Yanji airport. They arrived
safely in Taipei just after midday. To undertake a
similar mass casualty flight in the past we would
have had to mobilise two large aircraft, with a
transit stop in Hong Kong or Macau, then transfer
the patients into another aircraft, go through
immigration clearance, and sort out various
logistics before finally completing the journey.
Both flights were regarded as major events and
widely reported across all media. John Williams said:
“We are very proud to be part of this cross-Straits
initiative. The successful completion of these two
direct medical flights bears testament to the
capability and experience of International SOS in
China and Taiwan, not only in managing individual
cases but also mass casualty situations. It is also a
reflection of our excellent working relationships
with the government and health authorities on
both sides of the Straits.”
45

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