Zee Media Bureau
Gauchar/Sonprayag: An IAF chopper carrying 20 personnel and crew on a rescue mission in flood-ravaged Uttarakhand crashed on Tuesday and all on board are feared killed, as fresh rains hampered efforts to evacuate thousands still stranded.
Vice chairman of National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) M Sashidhar Reddy said eight bodies have been recovered and chances of any survivor onboard were remote. Five IAF personnel were among the dead, an IAF spokesperson said.
"Eight bodies have been recovered," he said in Delhi.
As the crash in bad weather compounded the tragedy of the rain fury, mass cremation of bodies of hundreds of people killed in the devastation by floods and landslides since rains pounded the hill state on June 15 was delayed raising fears of disease outbreak.
Rescuers evacuated 2,403 stranded pilgrims even as nearly 8,000 persons waited to be evacuated--most of them at Harsil and Badrinath, officials said, as the death toll rose to 822 with 142 bodies being found, including 127 in Kedarnath, the epicentre of destruction.
According to late night reports, the Russian-built chopper procured just last year was completely charred.
A Wing Commander, two Flight Lieutenants, a Junior Warrant Officer and a Sergeant were the dead IAF personnel but their names were not released.
ITBP Director General Ajay Chadha said six personnel from the para-military force were on board the ill-fated chopper while Inspector General of National Disaster Response Force(NDRF) Sandeep Rai Rathore said there were nine of its personnel. Both said the fate of their personnel is not known yet.
"One Mi-17 V5 chopper on a rescue mission from Gauchar to Guptkashi and Kedarnath while returning from Kedarnath crashed north of Gaurikund." an IAF spokesperson said in Delhi, as a pall of gloom descended on the camps where multi-agency rescue operations were being worked out.
A senior Air Force officer in Gauchar said the ill-fated Mi-17 chopper had made two sorties to the Kedarnath area today.
IAF had started inducting Mi-17 V5 choppers only last year after 80 of them were ordered from Russia.
The crash occurred in "difficult" weather conditions created by rains and fog, the officer said. The chopper belonged to a unit from Barrackpore Air Force Station in West Bengal under the Eastern Air Command.
An IAF spokesperson said its operations in the area will continue. A Court of Inquiry has been order to investigate the crash, the spokesperson added. IAF had started inducting Mi-17 V5 choppers only last year after 80 of them were ordered from Russia.
This is the second incident of a helicopter crash this week in the hill state.
A private helicopter carrying relief materials for the rain-affected people in Rudraprayag district had crashed on Sunday near Gaurikund leaving the pilot injured.
Uttarakhand has been hit by fresh rains and landslides for the past two days. Incidents of landslides were reported from Tehri district. Foggy and overcast conditions in Dehradun delayed take off by choppers at Sahasradhara helipad and Jolly Grant Airport today but air rescue operations to evacuate stranded people resumed after the weather improved.
Meanwhile, the Met department has warned of more rains over the next 24 hours in Uttarkashi, Chamoli and Dehradun.
"We`re expecting rains across the state. Heavy rains are possible in Uttarkashi and Chamoli and rescue operations will be affected. Rains across the state are expected on Wednesday too,” a Met department official was quoted as saying.
With PTI inputs