Seven people, including two pilots, were killed after a helicopter carrying pilgrims from Guptkashi to Kedarnath crashed and burst into flames near Jungle Chatti on Tuesday.
All seven onboard dead, Rudraprayag District Disaster Management official confirmed.
#WATCH | Uttarakhand: A helicopter carrying Kedarnath pilgrims from Phata crashes, casualties feared; administration team left for the spot for relief and rescue work. Further details awaited pic.twitter.com/sDf4x1udlJ— ANI (@ANI) October 18, 2022
According to sources, the helicopter crashed near Garu Chatti due to poor visibility amidst cloudy weather.
The region is extemely vulnerable to chopper crashes due to weather changes and difficult terrain.
Minister of Civil Aviation Jyotirao Scindia described the incident as "unfortunate" in a tweet.
The helicopter crash in Kedarnath is extremely unfortunate. We are in touch with the State government to ascertain the magnitude of the loss, and are constantly monitoring the situation.— Jyotiraditya M. Scindia (@JM_Scindia) October 18, 2022
He added that the ministry is "in touch with the State government to ascertain the magnitude of the loss, and are constantly monitoring the situation."
"According to the preliminary information, a Bell 407 helicopter VT-RPN crashed on the way from Kedarnath to Guptkashi, possibly due to bad weather," a senior official of the Directorate General of Civil Aviation said.
Cousin sisters among three women from Gujarat killed in the crash
Kriti Barad and her cousin Urvi Barad left Bhavnagar in Gujarat for Kedarnath on October 14 on what was meant to be a spiritual sojourn in the serene Himalayas, but four days later on Tuesday, their family members are waiting for their mortal remains.
Kriti (30), Urvi (25), and Purva Ramanuj (26) who hailed from Bhavnagar were among the seven people, including the pilot, who lost their lives when a helicopter ferrying pilgrims from Kedarnath temple to Guptkashi crashed in a hill in Uttarakhand.
While Kriti was an employee of a private company, Urvi was preparing for competitive examinations, their family members said, adding the sisters left Bhavnagar on October 14 for the Kedarnath pilgrimage.
Purva Ramanuj was a resident of Sihor taluka in Bhavnagar district.
The Gujarat government on Tuesday announced financial assistance of Rs 4 lakh to the kin of each of the three deceased women.
"The families of the deceased from Bhavnagar will be given Rs 4 lakh assistance. The decision has been taken by Chief Minister Shri @Bhupendrabjp ji and the state government for which I thank them," Gujarat Education Minister Jitu Vagahani tweeted.
He said the government is constantly in touch with the Uttarakhand government to bring the bodies of the victims to Gujarat.
"Out of the seven victims killed in the chopper crash, three are from Bhavnagar district. They are identified as Kriti Barad, Urvi Barad, and Purva Ramanuj," an official release said.
Kriti and Urvi were residents of Bhavnagar city, while Purva Ramanuj was from Sihor taluka in Bhavnagar district, tweeted Congress leader and Rajya Sabha MP Shaktisinh Gohil.
Kriti and Urvi, who lived in Desainagar locality, left Bhavnagar on October 14 on a pilgrimage to Kedarnath.
Many people visited the residences of the Barads after the news flashed on television screens of the chopper crash, local officials said.
"The former Chief Minister of Uttarakhand Shri Harish Rawatji and the leaders of Congress have spoken to the authorities to provide the required assistance to bring back the bodies of the daughters of Bhavnagar," Gohil said in another tweet.
The chopper -- Bell 407 (VT-RPN) and operated by Aryan Aviation -- burst into flames at around 11.45 am at Dev Darshini in Garud Chatti in Rudraprayag.
Teams from the National Disaster Response Force, disaster response forces of Uttarakhand and Delhi, and police brought the bodies to the Kedarnath helipad.
Eye witness recounts horrific crash
The helicopter that crashed near Kedarnath on Tuesday killing seven people on board met with the accident hardly five-six seconds after taking off from the helipad near the Himalayan temple.
The chopper of Aryan Aviation Pvt Ltd hit a hillock amid dense fog and crashed within seconds after taking off near Garurchatti which is barely two km from Kedarnath, Manohar Singh, a security man deployed at Kedarnath helipad, said.
The helicopter broke into pieces as it crashed and went up in flames, he said.
"Nothing was visible at once due to the thick blanket of fog enveloping the area but everyone ran in the direction from where a huge sound of crash came," he said.
As the fog thinned away, the helicopter was seen in flames and its pieces were scattered all over the slopes of Garurchatti, Singh said.
Ankur Shukla, a priest who happened to be at a distance from the crash site at the time of the accident, said when he saw the flames emanating from a big portion of the helicopter, he realised that a serious mishap had taken place.
Shukla got to know the details of the crash when he returned to Kedarpuri.
Head of Six Sigma Healthcare firm Dr Pradeep Bhardwaj said low visibility caused by thick fog appears to have been the main cause of the accident.
Heli services in the area have increased manifold of late but a matching security and control mechanism has not yet been developed. The Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) does not have an office here as yet, he said.
(With PTI inputs)