As I write this, the news is that the helicopter carrying Y S Rajasekhara Reddy, the chief minister of Andhra Pradesh, his Principal Security Officer and a senior official of the Andhra Pradesh government, which went missing at 9.35 am on September 2, after having lost contact with airport control, has been located on the top of a hill near Kurnool.
While following media reports about the search for the missing helicopter, one mind's went back to April 9, 1992, when a Russian-built private plane (AN-26), carrying Yasser Arafat, the then head of the Palestine Liberation Organisation, crashlanded in the Libyan desert after getting caught in a sand-storm.
The plane was carrying Arafat from Sudan to Libya. Before-crash landing, the pilot of the aircraft informed the control tower with which he was in touch that he was crash-landing in the desert due to difficulties faced because of the sand-storm. Thereafter, all communications ceased with the aircraft as well as with Arafat's security officers.
The wreckage of the plane was spotted in the desert in southern Libya by a Libyan air force plane. Search parties were immediately sent out into the area. When one of the rescue teams reached the spot 12 hours after radio contact with the plane had been lost, it found 10 of the 13 members on board the plane, including Arafat, alive. The two Palestinian pilots of the aircraft and a technician were dead. Arafat had some bruises on his body and an injury on his forehead.
The cockpit was totally destroyed by the crash-landing, but the cabin in which Arafat and the others were seated received only minor damage. Arafat's security officers were not able to contact their headquarters and guide the rescue effort because all communication equipment on the aircraft had been destroyed by the crash and the communication sets of Arafat's security officers had stopped functioning.
Only after the rescue team reached Arafat was he able to talk to PLO headquarters.
In any enquiry into the mishap to YSR's helicopter, the following questions may have to be addressed:
- Do the security rules on board VIP planes and helicopters require that the mobile phones of security officers will also be switched off as the other passengers are required to do?
- If so, is there any independent means of communications with the security officers available in addition to the communication equipment of the plane or helicopter?
- If not, how to ensure that the security officers have an independent and secure means of communications with their headquarters instead of having to depend on the equipment of the aircraft or helicopter?
- What is the present communications protocol with the security officer or officers on board with the VIP?
- Is there any need for revising it in the light of the experience with YSR's chopper?