New Delhi: Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister YS Rajasekhara Reddy`s fate appeared uncertain on Thursday morning after a helicopter carrying him went missing, even as a Sukhoi SU-30MKI combat jet of the Indian Air Force (IAF) and a low-flying aircraft of the National Remote Sensing Agency (NRSA) carried on search operations that continued till late into the night.
The Army, the Air Force and paramilitary forces and also the police and civil authorities, continued the massive search operations through the night.
With the helicopter carrying YSR, which went missing on Wednesday morning, not emitting emergency signals, the authorities are hoping that he is safe.
Almost 20 hours after the chopper went missing somewhere in Nallamalla forests in Kurnool district, the state ministers are hoping that he is safe. They believe that the chopper might have been forced to land in some inaccessible area due to bad weather.
Officials in the Chief Minister`s office are also hopeful. Their hopes are based on the fact that an Indian Air Force aircraft which flew over the area did not pick up any signals which indicate a crash.
On Wedneday, Andhra Pradesh Chief Secretary Ramakant Reddy told reporters that the Air Force, ISRO and Government of India were providing all possible help in the search operations. He said the operations have been marred by inclement weather and rainfall which was expected to continue for the next 48 hours.
The focus is on the 20 km forest area of Nallamala forest. IAF has deployed a Sukhoi fighter jet with on-board radar for high resolution ground mapping to locate it. The jet is equipped with Synthetic Aperture Radar that enables it to fly at night and in poor weather conditions.
After the search by eight helicopters was called off after sunset, the SU-30MKI combat joined the special NRSA aircraft in continuing the search through the night.
The SU-30 has night vision capabilities while the NRSA aircraft can fly at a height of 1.25 km and scam an area of 250 sq km at a time.
"Due to its better imagery and night vision capabilities, a Su-30 MKI has been pressed into service. It can look through the cloud and foliage cover in the area," an IAF spokesman said in New Delhi.
"Four helicopters had been deployed on Wednesday but were called off due to bad light and the choppers will again hit the skies at first light today," the spokesman added.
The Sukhoi deployment came within hours of the IAF launching four military helicopters to locate the Bell-430 VVIP chopper, which went missing after taking off from Hyderabad in the morning.
The IAF`s two Chetaks and one each of Mi-8 and Dhruv Advanced Light Helicopters flew out of Bengaluru in Karnataka and Hakimpet in Andhra Pradesh around 1500 hours and have been continuing the search operations.
Accompanied by state Finance Minister K Rosaiah, Reddy said National Remote Sensing Agency (NRSA) has been asked to send its low-flying aircraft in the forest where Reddy is last reported to have been. An ISRO satellite has provided 41 images of the forest area which were being analysed at the National Remote Sensing Agency at Balanagar. First look at the images did not reveal any debris presence.
He also revealed that the US Defence Department had been approached through the Central government for its satellite support. US Ambassador Timothy J Roemer offered all assistance but the NSA politely refused the help, NSA said. The secretary had said Indian satellites had till now not been able to peer through the clouds. “They can’t provide real-time imagery,” he had added.
He said the effort was targeted in the Nallamala forest of the state.
Forest Department, Revenue Department, Special Police force, Southern Command of the Army apart from the local police is involved the effort which is on a war-footing’, he said.
On Wednesday evening Chidambaram told reporters that search by helicopters had been halted for the time being due to failing daylight. “They will begin anew with first light on Thursday morning. But Andhra police as well as CRPF personnel are reaching the spot where the helicopter is last reported to have landed,” he said adding “pray for the best.”
A massive search operation had been launched with five Indian Air Force choppers and several others scourging the area for any trace of the missing chopper, which also has two officials and two pilots on board. Land operations have also begun to comb the areas of Chitoor, Anantpur and Prakasham. 5000 CRPF personnel and fourteen battalions of state police have been pressed into a ground operation.
Earlier, Rosaiah during a hurriedly convened press conference said that it is possible the state government helicopter might have landed in a forest area in Chitoor district, and efforts are on to locate it.
Rosiah said: “All state and central forces are on alert. At the moment, we are still tracing the location of the missing chopper, which has landed in the forests in the Chitoor-Nellore area. We are finding a way to reach the place.”
IGP Rajiv Trivedi has been deputed to lead the ground search operations while both revenue and police machinery in Kurnool and neighbouring districts have been put on high alert.
There is no indication of any crash landing because the helicopter equipped with an ELT capable of automatic transmission of frequency would have become active in case of any crash landing or such other unforeseen eventuality, Rosaiah said.
The Andhra Pradesh Aviation Corporation Limited said it is highly probable that the missing helicopter has made a safe landing at some inaccessible location. It said in a press release tonight said that the helicopter was suitably equipped with an Emergency Locator Transmitter (ELT) capable of automatic transmission of frequency 121.5 and 243 MHz which would have activated in case of any crash landing or such other unforeseen eventuality.
Rosaiah added that the Prime Minister’s office as well as the offices of Congress president Sonia Gandhi, Home Minister Chidambaram and Defence Minister AK Antony are being kept posted about the latest developments.
The AP government has also appealed to people living in the concerned area to contribute in the search and inform about any sightings to the nearest police station.
Reddy was on his way to Chitoor, by chopper which initial reports said had made an emergency landing near Kurnool due to inclement weather.
A twin-engined Bell 430 AP government helicopter carrying the Chief Minister took off from old Begumpet airport at 8.35am. Apart from the CM, it carried his Principal Secretary S Subramanyam and Chief Security Officer A S C Wesley, heads for Chitoor district.
The chopper was being piloted by Group Captain SK Bhatia with co-pilot Captain MS Reddy. Both are fully qualified and well experienced to handle the helicopter, the chief secretary said.
At 9.35am, it lost contact while possibly flying over Nallamala forest ranges, a stronghold of the Naxalites, in the Rayalaseema region.
With IANS inputs