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  Asia-Pacific
Helicopter Missing from Northeast Indian Sky
By Nava Thakuria
Special Correspondent
Eurocopter Ecureuil AS 350 B3

A helicopter carrying the chief minister of Arunachal Pradesh in Northeast India has been missing since Saturday morning, following bad weather and mechanical problems. The helicopter, owned by Pawan Hans Helicopter Services Ltd., has now been gone for over 36 hours. It departed Saturday from Tawang helipad, at an altitude of over 11,000 feet.

The Arunachal Pradesh officials initially claimed that the chopper faced bad weather soon after its take-off and later emergency-landed somewhere near the Arunachal-Bhutan border.

Dorjee Khandu, Chief Minister of Arunachal Pradesh, was flying from Tawang, the western part of the State to its capital Itanagar at 10 a.m. on April 30 with two other passengers and two crew members.

“The four others (excluding the chief minister Mr Khandu) on board includes security officer Yeshi Chodak, Yeshi Lamu, sister of Tawang MLA Tsewang Dhondup and crew members Captain J S Babbar & Captain K S Malick,” a local newspaper reported.

But even after a full day and a half, no confirmed report of their whereabouts was available. The Arunachal parliamentarian Takam Sanjay admitted that ‘there is no confirmation or news about the helicopter and we have not been able to make direct contact with any of the five people on board’.

Three Indian Air Force helicopters were deployed for an immediate rescue operation on Saturday along the Tawang-Itanagar route. But bad weather prevented them from maintaining their operation for long. A team comprised of personnel from the Army, SSB, ITB is scheduled to resume operations on Sunday morning to locate the helicopter and its passengers.

The helicopter, which was scheduled to arrive in Itanagar by 11.30 a.m., lost radio communication some time after taking off. For more than three hours there was no information about the helicopter. Then, retired Governor of the State Gen. JJ Singh made a media statement claiming the helicopter had landed inside Bhutan as a precautionary measure and all passengers were safe.

But the Bhutan authorities denied the landing of any helicopter in the area bordering India and Tibet (China). The Bhutanese Trashiyangtse district magistrate S. Duba was unaware of any such incident, and confirmed that there were no ‘reports of an Indian helicopter landing’ in their territory.

Earlier, officials of Pawan Hans HS Ltd, the company that owns and operates the helicopter (Eurocopter Ecureuil AS 350 B3), reiterated that this helicopter was newly built, well maintained and in the best possible mechanical condition.

Pawan Hans HS Ltd, which operates five helicopters in Arunachal Pradesh, Sikkim, Meghalaya, Nagaland and Tripura, now faces a probe into the presumed Arunachal crash. Moreover, its operations have been suspended after massive protests from various organizations in the region.

On April 19 of this year, another crash involving a Pawan Hans helicopter resulted in the death of 17, and injury of six people. The injured passengers are recovering in Guwahati and New Delhi hospitals.

The ill-fated helicopter was flying from Guwahati to Tawang and crashed near the Tawang town.

Mr Khandu, 56, assumed chief ministership on April 9, 2007. He replaced Gegong Apang to become the fifth Chief Minister of State. Meanwhile, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and the ruling Congress party chief Sonia Gandhi called on officials at Itanagar to continue their efforts in the search for Mr. Khandu and other passengers. Under the
direction of Dr Singh, two Union ministers, Mukul Wasnik and V Narayanswami, arrived in Itanagar on May 1 and continue to support the rescue operation.



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Nava Thakuria, who serves as a Special Correspondent for The Seoul Times, is based in Guwahati of Northeast India. He also contributes articles for many media outlets based in different parts of the glove, and can be contacted at navathakuria@gmail.com

 

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