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Arunachal CM's helicopter still untraceable

Last updated on: May 1, 2011 20:55 IST

Arunachal CM's helicopter still untraceable

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The helicopter carrying Arunachal Pradesh Chief Minister Dorjee Khandu and four others remained untraced for the second day on Sunday as inclement weather hampered a massive ground and aerial search involving Sukhoi war planes, several choppers and satellite imagery.

Two Indian Air Force Sukhois from Bareilly and a MI-17 of IAF joined hundreds of personnel of Army, Seema Suraksha Bal, Indo-Tibetan Border Patrol and the police in the search but failed to locate the chopper that went missing on Saturday after taking off from Tawang for Itanagar.

Satellite images sought by the Centre from the Indian Space Research Organisation also did not give any clue as the area where the helicopter ferrying Khandu, 56, went missing was under cloud cover, Indian Space Research Organisation said.

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Image: File photo of the chopper

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"The images are cloud-covered and so far nothing could be spotted," ISRO spokesperson Satish said in Bangalore.

External Affairs Minister S M Krishna spoke to Bhutanese Prime Minister Jigme Thinley seeking assistance in the search.

Krishna discussed with Thinley the issue of logistical support to those involved in search operations along the Indo-Bhutan border, sources said in Delhi.

Krishna thanked the Bhutanese Prime Minister for the support being rendered by his government and requested for more teams to be sent for the search.


Image: Arunachal Pradesh Chief Minister Dorjee Khandu

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Arunachal CM's helicopter is still missing

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"Two Cheetah helicopters from Tezpur took to the air at around 3:00 PM, but had to return within half-an-hour due to bad weather," Defence Spokesman Ranjib Sahoo told PTI in Shillong.

"The aerial operations will resume at 5 am on Monday," Sahoo said.

Earlier, an MI-17 helicopter made two sorties for over two hours from 6:00 AM, but had to return due to inclement weather, he said.

Two Sukhois from Bareilly in Uttar Pradesh searched in and around the Tawang-Itanagar route. "The pictures taken will be analysed in a laboratory and based on the findings feed-back will be given to the ground parties conducting the search," spokesman at the Army's 4 Corps in Tezpur Col N N Joshi said on phone.



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Defence sources said 30 columns of the Indian Army comprising 2,400 personnel from Tawang and Tenga were searching on the ground for the missing helicopter on the Indo-Bhutan border. Six ITBP teams with 25 personnel each also joined the ground search operations.

Union Ministers Mukul Wasnik and V Narayanasamy were dispatched by the Government to Itanagar to monitor the search operations.

Noting that the weather conditions were a key factor in the search, Narayanasamy said local people were also taking part in the operations which were going on in a concerted manner.

Indian Ambassador to Bhutan Pavan Verma said that the operations were being conducted by the Indian Government and the Bhutanese authorities were providing cooperation.

"Since Saturday, the Bhutanese have been most cooperative," he said.


Image: Foreign Minister SM Krishna

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The four-seater single-engine Pawan Hans helicopter AS-B350-B-3 chopper went missing on Saturday 20 minutes after take off from Tawang, 200 kms from Itanagar, at 9.56 am. It was to land at Itanagar at 11:30 am.

Fifteen teams, carrying rations for a week, were on their way for carrying out the operations to trace the chopper.

Meanwhile, the Regional Meteorological Centre has forecast rain or thundershowers and squalls with wind speed exceeding 50 kmph over Arunachal Pradesh, Assam and Meghalaya in the next 24 hours.

Besides Khandu, the others on board were pilots Captain J S Babbar and Captain T S Mamik, Khandu's security officer Yeshi Choddak and the sister of Tawang MLA Tsewang Dhondup, Yeshi Lhamu.



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The Guwahati air traffic control had on Saturday received the last radio communication from it when it was flying near Sela Pass 20 minutes after takeoff.

There was confusion on Saturday over the fate of the chopper and those on board with claims made by Arunachal Pradesh Governor Gen (retd) J J 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 there.

The CM's office had said the helicopter had landed in a place in Bhutan.

However, later in the evening denials came from all concerned saying helicopter had not been located and search operation was still on.

Army Chief General V K Singh today said in Delhi, "The operation (to search the missing chopper) was called off on Saturday after media reports that it had landed safely. But it was resumed on Sunday morning."



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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.

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.


Image: File photo of the wreckage of an IAF helicopter

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