The Government Flying Service (GFS) said on Sunday that the chances are very slim of finding any of the sailors missing from an engineering vessel which snapped in two in waters southwest of Hong Kong when Typhoon Chaba passed through on Saturday.
The GFS said it had so far dispatched three fixed-wing aircraft and six helicopters on the rescue mission and sent a total of 36 rescuers out, including off-duty officers who were called back to assist operations.
Three crew members of the wrecked vessel were pulled to safety by rescuers on Saturday, but more than two dozen sailors were still unaccounted for as rescue operations continued into the second day.
GFS Controller West Wu said it would be almost impossible to find more survivors, given the time that had elapsed since they went missing, as well as the extreme weather.
"[From] our previous experience, the chance to finding them alive is very, very slim," he conceded.
“The weather and the sea conditions are a major cause for this incident. [For] all of us here in GFS, our hearts [are with] the families of the missing sailors and workers, and I do wish we could find some survivors. It would be a miracle to do that."
Wu said the flying service had paused rescue operations after nightfall on Saturday, but that the search resumed on Sunday with an expanded perimeter.
"For rescue operations, the baseline is safety of our crew, and we have to make a lot of very in-depth assessments of the weather conditions, the on-scene weather, and also any contingency plan for our aircraft, just in case they need to make a diversion to nearby, because of fuel shortage or other elements," he said.
Security minister Chris Tang earlier visited GFS headquarters and thanked rescuers for their bravery but did not speak to reporters.
Separately, Chief Secretary Eric Chan said in a statement that he had instructed authorities to continue to race against the clock, expand the search area, and do their best in looking for the missing sailors.