The helicopter carrying Arunachal Pradesh Chief Minister Dorjee Khandu and four others, which went missing after take off yesterday, was untraced for the second day today as inclement weather hampered ground and aerial search involving Sukhoi war planes and satellite imagery.
Two IAF Sukhois from Bareilly and a MI-17 of IAF joined hundreds of personnel of Army, SSB, ITBP and police in the searches but failed to locate the chopper that went missing yesterday after taking off from Tawang for Itanagar.
Satellite images sought by the Centre from ISRO 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.
"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.
A total of six helicopters were today pressed into service to locate the missing chopper.
Home Secretary G K Pillai said that two helicopters flew into Bhutanese side and four flew over the Indian areas but without any luck.
"We have about 25 search parties scouring along the areas and the Royal Bhutanese Army were conducting the search in their areas. The search operations were focussed on the areas where people claim to have seen a heliopter flying around yesterday morning," he said.
"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 5:00 am tomorrow," 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 over phone.
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.
In a related development, State-run helicopter company Pawan Hans today announced suspension of commercial operations in the northeast.
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 yesterday the Bhutanese have been most cooperative," he said.
The four-seater single-engine Pawan Hans helicopter AS-B350-B-3 chopper went missing yesterday 20 minutes after take off from Tawang, 200 kms from here, at 9.56 am. It was to land at Itanagar at 11:30 am.
The Army, SSB, ITBP along with police launched a massive joint operation since dawn
A team of National Disaster Response Force comprising 38 personnel with search and rescue equipment proceeded to Bomdila by road this morning for assisting the police in the search and rescue operations.
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.
The Guwahati air traffic control had yesterday received the last radio communication from it when it was flying near Sela Pass 20 minutes after takeoff.
There was confusion yesterday 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 yesterday after media reports that it had landed safely. But it was resumed today morning."
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.
No Trace of Arunachal CM's Missing Helicopter on Day 2
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