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Khandu’s chopper still missing; Army, ITBP conduct search ops; ISRO reports awaited
Correspondent/Agencies Shillong/DIMAPUR, May 1 (NPN):
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Published on 2 May. 2011 12:49 AM IST
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Bad weather Sunday forced the Indian Air Force (IAF) to suspend its search for the AS350 B-3 helicopter carrying Arunachal Pradesh chief minister Dorjee Khandu and four others. However, Indian and Bhutanese troops continued their search operations in hostile conditions to trace the helicopter.
The four occupants besides Khandu were identified as security officer, Dy SP Yeshi Choddak, Yeshi Lamu, the sister of Tawang MLA Tsewang Dhondup, and the two pilots, Captain BS Babbar and Captain KS Malick, from Tawang to Itanagar.
The Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) released imageries of the mountainous area taken by its satellites, but the biggest dampener was the inclement weather, particularly after darkness set in.
“Two satellites from the ISRO had taken images but the images were hazy due to bad weather. By midnight we expect a detailed report from the ISRO,” senior Arunachal Pradesh minister Jarbom Gamling said.
The pilots of the AS350 B-3 helicopter lost contact with the ground soon after it took off at 9.56 a.m. Saturday when it flew passed the Sela Pass along the Chinese border perched at an altitude of 13,700 feet. The chopper was scheduled to land at Naharlagun helipad in Arunachal at 11.30 a.m.
The IAF initially planned to press two MI-17 helicopters from Tawang near the China border, from where the chief minister had taken off, but only one could take off.
Only one MI 17 made two sorties but returned to Tawang due to bad weather, Ranjeeb Sahoo, IAF spokesman at the Eastern Air Command headquarters in Shillong, said. Two Cheetah helicopters were also to take off from Tezpur in Assam but were held up due to bad weather.
Two Sukhoi-30 aircraft, however, flew over a wide area and completed aerial mapping to get clues that may lead the search teams to the missing chopper -- and its occupants if they are still alive.
Saturday’s incident comes just days after a Pawan Hans helicopter crashed in Tawang April 19, killing 17 people and injuring six.
Meanwhile, central ministers Mukul Wasnik and V. Narayanasamy have arrived in Itanagar to oversee the search operations following a directive from Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. “Bad weather hampered aerial surveys. We were in constant touch with the Bhutan government and are trying to locate exactly where the helicopter could have landed,” Narayanasamy said.
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.
Meanwhile, the Regional Meteorological Centre forecast rain or thunder showers and thunder squalls with wind speed exceeding 50 kmph.
Thunder squalls with wind speed exceeding 50 kmph may occur at one or two places over Arunachal Pradesh, Assam and Meghalaya during the next 24 hours.
Rio expresses concern
Chief minister, Neiphiu Rio has expressed deep concern and anguish at the disappearance of the helicopter carrying Arunachal Pradesh chief minister, Dorjee Khandu and others. Rio has conveyed the concern of the people of Nagaland and prayed for the safe return of the chief minister.

 
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