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YSR killed in ‘copter crash
Published on 4 Sep. 2009 1:18 AM IST
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Grief swept through India’s southern state of Andhra Pradesh and much of the country Thursday with the tragic death of Chief Minister Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy, a dyanmic politician who was killed when his helicopter exploded in the dark rain clouds over a deep forest a day earlier. The ruling Congress’ charismatic leader, left home for Chittoor, 600 km away, for a mass contact programme in a remote village Wednesday morning and never returned. On Thursday, almost 24 hours later, the mutilated remains of his body and four others who were with him on the Bell helicopter were found on a hilltop in the dense Nallamalla forests in Kurnool, about 200 km from here. In one of the biggest searches mounted in the country, helicopters, remote sensing unmanned aerial vehicles and even barefoot villagers hunted in pouring rain for a whole day and night in the forested hinterland for the wreckage, which was finally located about 40 nautical miles east of Kurnool town. The helicopter had broken into several parts and the bodies had been charred, a sombre Home Minister P. Chidambaram said in Delhi while making the official pronouncement of the death of the 60-year-old leader. “I am officially confirming the tragic deaths,” Chidambaram stated. Para commandos had to rappel down slippery slopes to retrieve the bodies, some who could only be recognised by the clothes they wore. “It appears that because of inclement weather and to avoid cloud formation, the pilot had taken a detour from the preliminary inquiry... it appeared the chopper went and hit the cliff of a hillock,” added state Chief Secretary P. Ramakant Reddy. With YSR, who this May steered the Congress to a second stint in power, was his special secretary P. Subrahmanyam, his chief security officer A.S.C. Wesley and the two pilots of the ill-fated helicopter -- Group Captain S.K. Bhatia and Captain M.S. Reddy. There was shock, disbelief and tears in Andhra Pradesh as the late chief minister’s body reached Hyderabad in the evening and crowds milled around trying to come to terms with the enormity of the tragedy. The silence that fell over the state was punctuated by muffled sobs and wails of hundreds of people who rushed to the popular chief minister’s camp office, the state secretariat and the party headquarters. In the rest of the country, viewers sat in front of their television sets watching the unfolding of the tragedy that had left the state and the ruling Congress in a political vacuum. The news stunned the Congress that lost the leader who had helped strengthen its foothold in the vital south. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who called an emergency meeting in the national capital, Congress president Sonia Gandhi and several union ministers were expected to go to Hyderabad Friday ahead of the state funeral in his home town Pulivendula in Kadapa district. Calling YSR an “ideal chief minister who was a role model for other states”, the prime minister said he had lost “a valued colleague on whom I depended for support and ideas.” A deeply moved Sonia Gandhi said it “is a huge loss for the party, it is a loss for all of us, his colleagues, for the state of Andhra Pradesh and the country”. Tributes poured in from all quarters, including from the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) that also lowered its flags in mourning. The union cabinet met in Delhi and decided that there would be a state funeral and that the tricolour would fly at half mast in Delhi and all state capitals on Thursday and Friday. Finance Minister K. Rosaiah has taken over as caretaker chief minister. YSR, who will be given a state funeral, is survived by his wife Vijayalaxmi, MP son Y.S. Jaganmohan Reddy and daughter Sharmila, who reached Hyderabad from Bangalore with her children in early Thursday and was in touch with officers coordinating the rescue operation. A rescue that was never to be. Panel to probe crash The Civil Aviation Ministry tonight set up a four-member committee to probe the cause of Andhra Chief Minister Y S Rajasekhara Reddy’s helicopter crash in which he was killed. The committee has been asked to complete its inquiry and submit its report to the government within two months. R K Tyagi, Chairman and Managing Director of Pawan Hans Helicopters will head the committee, the Civil Aviation Ministry said in a statement. The committee will also take the assistance of other experts from Indian Air Force wherever required, it said. The Bell 430 helicopter belonging to Andhra Pradesh government, carrying Reddy and four others, crashed into a hillock and exploded yesterday while flying from Hyderabad to Chitoor. Reddy and all others were killed in the mishap. Sources said the DGCA will now insist on carrying of satellite phones and effective transponders on every helicopter carrying a VIP apart from the other equipments on the choppers. The Directorate General of Civil Aviation has already begun a probe into the chopper crash. The regulatory body has also been coming out with instructions on a regular basis for heli-operators to follow the laid down rules, procedures and guidelines. It has laid down stringent guidelines for helicopter operations in the country. The DGCA had made it mandatory for non-scheduled plane and helicopter operators to possess valid airworthiness certificates for their aircraft which should be inspected by licensed aeronautical engineers on a regular basis. According to aviation sources, most of the helicopter accidents have occurred when the aircraft was being flown under Visual Flight Rules (VFR) instead of being guided by Instrument Flight Rules (IFR). Visual flying rules are generally not used at busy airports which have a controlled airspace and the air traffic is generally guided by IFR. Also, the flight plan of VIP choppers should clearly indicate alternative airports for landing.

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