Blame game over Tawang crash

A blame game has erupted over the Tawang helicopter crash that claimed 17 lives with Pawan Hans asserting its choppers were "properly and regularly maintained".

New Delhi: A blame game has erupted over
the Tawang helicopter crash that claimed 17 lives with Pawan
Hans asserting on Thursday its choppers were "properly and regularly
maintained" after the Arunachal Pradesh government charged the
operator with flying "non-airworthy" helicopters.

Rejecting the charges by the Arunachal government over
airworthiness of its fleet, the central government-owned
helicopter operator said its choppers were properly maintained
and had the necessary certification to fly.

"Our helicopters are properly and regularly maintained
and serviced. All of them have valid airworthiness
certification and our pilots are highly trained", a spokesman
for the Pawan Hans Helicopters Limited (PHHL) said.

He said the pilots Capt Varun Gupta and Capt A K
Tiwari of the ill-fated Mi-17 chopper were "highly
experienced with over 5,000 hours of flying".

Tuesday`s accident caused the death of 17 of the 23
people on board the helicopter but Capt Gupta and five others
miraculously survived though with serious burn injuries.
Tiwari was among the victims.

The PHHL spokesman`s statement came after the state
government shot off a letter to the Civil Aviation Ministry
demanding an inquiry into the maintenance status of the PHHL
helicopters and whether the guidelines of Directorate General
of Civil Aviation (DGCA) were being met by it. The state
government yesterday blamed PHHL for the crash.

"Despite repeated written complaint to the Pawan Hans
Chairman-cum-Chief Managing Director R K Tyagi and General
Manager (Marketing) and in-charge of North East Sanjoy Kumar
to replace the 15-year-old choppers being pressed into service
in the state since 1995, the authority remained unmoved,"
the north-eastern state`s Civil Aviation Commissioner Hage
Khoda said yesterday.

Arunachal Home Minister Tako Dabi, Lok Sabha MP Takam
Sanjoy and several others have also criticised PHHL for
allegedly operating "non-airworthy" helicopters to and from
Tawang, a popular tourist destination. The Tawang helipad is
one of the highest in the world, located at an altitude of
11,000 feet, bordering China`s Tibet region.

There have been a series of chopper crashes in the
high altitude areas of Arunachal Pradesh, including in
November 1997 in which Minister of State for Defence NVN
Somu and three others were killed when their Cheetah
helicopter hit a 1,300 feet peak about 40 kms from Tawang.

In 2009, an IAF AN-32 aircraft crashed at Mechuka
killing all 13 defence personnel on board.

Eleven air force personnel and an army colonel were
killed when an air force Mi17 helicopter crashed near the
China frontier on November 19, 2010, a minute after take-off.

In August last year, a cabin crew member Dhananjay Roy
fell to his death when an IAF chopper was flying from Namsai
to Tezu on routine passenger service.

The PHHL, which started service from 1995, has two 24-
seater Mi172 helicopter and an 8-seater one in the state.

The state government has an 8-seater helicopter run by
Global Vectra and another 24-seater Jagson that has been
discontinued because of frequent technical problems, according
to state government officials.

In May 2001, Arunachal Pradesh Education Minister Dera
Natung and five others were killed when their Pawan Hans craft
crashed near Tawang because of poor visibility.