ITANAGAR: A helicopter carrying the Arunachal Pradesh Chief Minister, Mr Dorjee Khandu and four others went missing on Saturday shortly after takeoff from Tawang and apprehensions grew about their fate with search operations yielding no results.
Mr Khandu, accompanied by the sister of Tawang MLA, security officer, had taken off from Tawang at 9.56 a.m. and was to land at Itanagar at 11.30 a.m. by a Pawan Hans helicopter Eurocopter B3 craft. Tawang is about 200 km 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 the 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. 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,” the Union home secretary, Mr 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.
The Arunachal Pradesh deputy inspector general of police, Mr Robin Hibu said joint search operation for the missing copter will be conducted by the Army, the Air Force and state police from Sunday morning by air and through ground.
The five onboard included crewmembers Captain J S Babbar and Captain K S Malick, Mr Khandu’s security officer Mr Yeshi Choddak and Ms Yeshi Lamu, sister of the Tawang MLA, Mr Tsewang Dhondup.
The 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,” Wing Commander 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.”
Fifty-six-year-old Mr 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 Mr Gegong Apang.
Earlier Mr Pillai had said that search parties left from Itanagar by road to the probable site near Sela Pass. The defence ministry, the 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,” Mr Pillai said.
The 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 12.30 p.m. 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 North-East 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 firefighting facilities could have saved lives.
In the other incident, an Army helicopter crashed near Gangtok killing four occupants on board.