A dutiful last moment

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A dutiful last moment

“We firefighters will also do our best today,” was the last posting on his Facebook page of 31-year-old firefighter Lee Eun-gyo who had been among five passengers who were all killed in a fatal crash of a helicopter that fell on a residential area in Gwangju, South Jeolla. Lee often wrote about daily duties, devotion and pride in his work on the social network platform. The ill-fated chopper were carrying five firefighters from the scene of Sewol ferry disaster operations where hundreds of Korean Coast Guard are still struggling to find the missing 11 bodies from the ship that sank on April 16 off the southwestern coast of South Jeolla that killed nearly 300 people on board.

The firefighters and rescue team aboard the helicopter were on their way back to their base in Gangwon Fire Headquarters after taking part in the rescue operation for the previous four days. The five had been a heroic team at the Gwangwon headquarters. They were called the station’s Science Ninja Gatchaman - referring to the five-member superhero animation team. They would be the first to rush to disaster scenes upon emergency calls and successfully completed rescue mission based on their solid teamwork.

The cause of the crash remains unclear. It had been foggy and raining at the time of the accident, but not to the extent of canceling flights.

A female high school student was hurt from the debris from the chopper which has been burning when it came down on the street nearby an apartment complex and a middle school and exploded, sending flames to nearby apartment building. The debris smashed through the windows of nearby building and vehicles. The unexpected crash could have led to major casualties. However, witnesses and video clips of the crash suggest the pilot tried his best till the last minute to avoid crashing into the apartment complex and school.

We were devastated and dumfounded to learn that the captain and crew of the Sewol ferry had been the first to flee the sinking ship without any care for the passengers. We were deeply enraged by the shameful scene of our coast guards just circling around the sinking ship while hundreds of passengers were still on board After their tragic deaths, we could not raise our heads from the inexorable sense of shame and guilt for our systematic failure to rescue any of the 200 students who naively had been waiting for rescue.

However, the firefighters had not forgotten their service and duty to public safety until their last moment. Each of them - chief pilot Jeong Seong-choel, deputy pilot Park In-don, repair engineer Ahn Byung-gook, and two firefighters Shin Young-ryong and Lee Eun-gyo - must all be honored and remembered forever.

JoongAng Ilbo, July 19, Page 30

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