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The Kunlun Eagle Group is increasingly providing assistance overseas. Wang Keju reports from Yichang, Hubei province.
It was 4 am and fog shrouded the southern Indian Ocean, famous for its roaring westerly winds and unsettled weather.
Even though he was flying just 420 meters above the surface of the water and battling heavy turbulence in a bank of cloud, Colonel Li Sheng, pilot of a People"s Liberation Army Air Force Ilyushin Il-76 transport plane, decided to descend a further 100 meters.
Li, a chief navigator with the Air Force"s transport squadron in the Central Theater Command, was part of a seven-country search for traces of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370, two weeks after the Boeing 777 disappeared.
MH370 was carrying 239 passengers and crew, including 154 Chinese citizens, when it disappeared from radar screens during a flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing on March 8, 2014.
"Conditions were extremely bumpy, and the aircraft was so close to the surface of the ocean that I felt as though I could reach out my hand and touch it," the 42-year-old said. "But in order to get a clearer view of any objects in the sea, we had to risk flying at lower altitude."
After two hours of flying at low altitude and staring at the sea, the crew had nothing to show for their efforts but sore eyes. On the return flight to Perth, state capital of Western Australia, when they were supposed to take a break, the aircrew continued to search. Finally, they noticed two square, white objects floating in the water.
The crew and Australian experts onboard analyzed photos they had taken, and confirmed the objects as suspected wreckage, which made China the first of the seven countries involved, including Australia, New Zealand and Malaysia, to discover possible flight debris.
In the past 40 years of deepening and advancing reform and opening-up, the squadron has followed the Air Force"s "going out" call, and undertaken many overseas missions around the world.
More than 300 members of the transport squadron have traveled to 32 countries on tasks such as providing humanitarian aid, international rescue and relief, and taking part in joint military exercises.