May 23, 2024

IAF chopper crash: Cruel end for life-savers

TAP | Updated: July 6, 2017


ITANAGAR, Jul 06: Arunachal Pradesh police officials on Thursday said three bodies were found from the spot where the Indian Air Force chopper on flood rescue mission had crashed Tuesday afternoon. The fate of the fourth person has not been known.

The advanced light helicopter had three crew members and an Indian Reserve Battalion man who was assigned flood duty by the state disaster management body.

“Three bodies have been retrieved from the debris while search for the fourth person is still on,” Sandeep Goel, the state’s director-general of police, said.

Search team comprising state police, NDRF, locals besides Army and IAF personnel along with medical team started to the spot at the break of dawn today, the DGP informed.

The three IAF crew members of the ill-fated chopper were Wing Commander MS Dhillon, the pilot, Flight Lieutenant PK Singh and Flight Engineer Sergeant Gujjar. The IRB man was identified as Nada Umbing from Hija village in Lower Subansiri district’s Ziro.

Papum Pare district superintendent of police Tumme Amo, who led one of the search teams, said 14 policemen and some local guides reached the crash site – a deep gorge at Sopo Yuha where a waterfall meets a river, about 30 km north of state capital Itanagar – Wednesday evening and spotted two bodies.

But they could not explore as darkness descended, forcing them to camp nearby.

“Since it takes five hours to reach the spot on foot from the nearest village, a team comprising state police, National Disaster Response Force, army, IAF and medical personnel besides locals started walking at 4am,” Amo said.

Arunachal Pradesh chief minister Pema Khandu said the IAF chopper had rescued 169 people from flood and landslide-hit areas before it went missing.

“The brave personnel were on a mission to rescue people stranded due to floods by airlifting them to safer locations. Hundreds of people rescued by IAF couldn’t even thank them enough when this tragedy struck like a bolt from nowhere. They are shattered by the news and mourn the death of their saviours,” Khandu said in a condolence message.

Lt Colonel Sombit Ghosh, defence spokesperson based in Assam’s Tezpur, confirmed the recovery of bodies and said a court of inquiry has been ordered to investigate the cause of the accident.

The helicopter had taken off Tuesday from the Pilputu helipad near Sagalee in Papum Pare district, about 30 km from Itanagar. It lost contact with ground staff within minutes of take-off at 3:48 pm.

Arunachal and parts of the Northeast have been witnessing heavy rainfall in the past few weeks.

Arunachal is known for its unpredictable weather. There have been a series of aircraft crashes over the past few years.

This was the second aircraft crash in the state in 40 days. In May, a Sukhoi-30 fighter jet with two pilots on board crashed along the Assam-Arunachal border.

In 2015, a Pawan Hans helicopter with three persons on board including Tirap Deputy Commissioner Kamlesh Joshi, crashed in a dense jungle. Joshi was killed in the crash.

In 2011, then Arunachal Pradesh Chief Minister Dorjee Khandu and four others died after their Pawan Hans chopper crashed at a remote location in the state. A few days before, another helicopter crashed while landing in Tawang, killing 16 people.

Following the crashes, commercial chopper services were stopped in the state till 2013 when Pawan Hans restarted the service in the state and other parts of the region.

Pawan Hans Helicopter Services Limited has been operating chopper services across Arunachal Pradesh, Sikkim, Meghalaya, Nagaland and Tripura and daily Guwahati-Tawang services for over 15 years.

It is one of the major lifelines in landlocked and mountainous state.