No trace of helicopter with Arunachal CM

Last Updated: Saturday, April 30, 2011 - 21:20

Itanagar: A helicopter carrying Arunachal
Pradesh Chief Minister Dorjee Khandu and four others went
missing on Saturday shortly after take off from Tawang and
apprehensions grew about their fate with search operations
yielding no results.

Khandu, accompanied by the sister of Tawang MLA,
security officer, had taken off from Tawang at 9:56 am and was
to land at Itanagar at 11:30 am by a Pawan Hans helicopter
Eurocopter B3 craft. Tawang is about 200 kms from here.

The chopper was last in communication with the base
when it was overflying Sela Pass, 20 minutes after taking off
from Tawang, and all communications were lost after that.

There was confusion in the afternoon with claims made by
Governor Gen (retd) JJ Singh first and then by the Chief
Minister`s Office and Defence spokesperson that the Chief
Minister had landed safely in a place called Daporijo in Upper
Subansiri district. The CM`s office said the helicopter had
landed in a place in Bhutan.

However later in the evening there were denials from all
concerned saying helicopter has not been located and search
operation was still on.

"The helicopter is missing and the search operation is
still on," Union Home Secretary Gopal K Pillai said in New
Delhi in the evening.

The Arunachal Pradesh government said that it is yet to
ascertain the whereabouts of the Pawan Hans chopper which went
missing since morning with the Chief Minister and four others
on board.

Arunachal Pradesh Deputy Inspector General of Police
Robin Hibu said joint search operation for the missing copter
will be conducted by Army, Air Force and state police from Sunday morning by air and through ground.

The five on board included crew members Captain JS
Babbar and Captain KS Malick, Khandu`s security officer Yeshi
Choddak and Yeshi Lamu, sister of Tawang MLA Tsewang Dhondup.

Defence spokesman Wing Commander Ranjeev Sahoo said in
Shillong that two IAF Cheetah helicopters were sent for the
rescue and search operations.

"They have flown from Tezpur and searched the route
from Tawang to Itanagar. Because of inclement weather they had
to come back after two hours of search. But they could not
locate the missing chopper. If needed they would be sent again
tomorrow," Sahoo told PTI.

Pawan Hans officials said in Guwahati "We have not been
able to contact our pilots and unless we receive information
from them, we cannot confirm any report".

56-year-old Khandu, who had served in the intelligence
wing of the Indian Army, was sworn on April 9, 2007 as the
fifth chief minister of the state, replacing Gegong Apang.

Earlier Pillai had said that search parties left from
Itanagar by road to the probable site near Sela Pass. The
Defence Ministry, Army and the Air Force have all been
alerted.

"Unfortunately because of very bad weather the flights
have not been able to take off for the search in Tawang area.
But as soon as weather clears, the helicopters will take off",
Pillai said.

Defence Ministry spokesman in Kolkata Wing Commander
Mahesh Upasani said despite inclement weather, two Cheetah
helicopters have been pressed into service from Tezpur in
Assam for search and rescue operations.

The request for help reached the air force at 1230
hours and the two helicopters took off within 40 minutes.

The air force has pressed into service two helicopters
in search operations to locate the missing chopper. The Pawan
Hans chopper was a Eurocopter B-3 and was just 4-5 months old.
It was based in Itanagar.

This is the third helicopter to get into trouble in
the Northeast in the last fortnight.

In the April 19 incident, a Pawan Hans helicopter
crashed in the mountains of Tawang, bordering Tibet, killing
all 17 people on board. The helicopter crashed not far away
from the helipad and the DGCA had found that proper
fire-fighting facilities could have saved lives.

In the other incident, an army helicopter crashed near
Gangtok killing four occupants on board.

PTI



First Published: Saturday, April 30, 2011 - 21:20

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