Wednesday, 2 September 2009
Helicopter carrying Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister YS Rajasekhar Reddy crash lands, killing the VVIP
A DAY AFTER THE HELICOPTER CARRYING THE CHIEF MINISTER, DR YS RAJASEKHAR REDDY, WENT MISSING, THE CENTRAL GOVERNMENT ON THURSDAY MORNING ANNOUNCED THE CHOPPER HAD CRASH LANDED, KILLING THE VVIP, HIS CHIEF SECURITY OFFICER JOHN WESLEY, HIS SECRETARY P SUBRAHMANYAM AND TWO PILOTS. THE HELICOPTER HAD BEEN TRACED AND THE BODIES FOUND ON A HILL DEEP IN THE FORESTS OF NALLAMALA ABOUT 70 KM AWAY FROM KURNOOL.
Hyderabad, Sept 3: Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister YS Rajasekhar Reddy is no more. He died in a helicopter crash deep in the forests of Nallamala.
Earlier, the helicopter carrying the chief minister from Hyderabad to Chitoor, went missing on Wednesday morning within an hour of the take off. The helicopter took off at 8.30 am and lost radar contact with Shamshabad airport at 9.00 am and with Chennai ATC at 9.02 am. The signals from the cell phone of the chief security officer, who was accompanying the chief minister, were last recorded
at 9.35 am from a cell tower in Kurnool district.
The chief minister's office first said Rajasekhar is safe after he landed in a forest area. But it later withdrew the statement and called upon people living in villages abutting forest areas to launch their own search operations and inform the nearest police station in case they find the helicopter. The Central government on Thursday morning announced that Rajasekhar Reddy had died in the crash.
As the day progressed on Wednesday, the government turned nervous and sought the help of Central government. It has also requested the US department of defence to help locate the chief minister. The Centre however turned down the State's proposal. Instead it has deputed Central forces and helicopters including those from ISRO and Airforce as part of the rescue operations.
The entire forest area has been shrouded in thick dark clouds with heavy rains stirring up seasonal streams. The visibility is almost nil and this has forced the rescue teams to suspend operations for the day.
Union Home Ministry is monitoring the situation closely. Army helicopters have been pressed into service. He was scheduled to land at 10.45 am at Chittoor, but his chopper went off radar due to bad weather.
Elite commandos armed with night vision equipment joined 2,000-odd security forces, six choppers and Sukhoi jets to scour a large swathe of forests. “No good news yet … we are keeping our fingers crossed,” Home Minister P Chidambaram said in New Delhi.
The government is resting its hope on IAF Sukhois with night vision capability which can detect the heat of the craft.
The Sukhois can pick up the heat trails of the chopper if it has come down in the forests of Nallamalla. There are 20 ground teams comprising personnel from various agencies including anti-naxal commandos searching for the chopper in what has now been identified as a 1,000 sq km area. This remains a daunting task and the rescue operations will depend on aerial and satellite surveys apart from help rendered by local tribals near Almakur where the helicopter was last seen.
Home ministry officials coordinating the search hope any wreckage could be located by Thursday afternoon as operations intensify with more helicopters and low-flying aircraft.
The area -- where the search operation is going on -- has been pin-pointed with the help of tribals who last saw the chopper over Almakur and the nearest mobile coordinates. The chopper, taking the north-south flying path from Kurnool to Chitoor, is understood to have taken an eastward diversion, possibly due to bad weather.
Officials said the pilot might have tried to negotiate clouds and turnedtowards Almakur and nearby Iskala and Phaula Bhudua villages where it was last spotted by tribals.
Andhra Pradesh government -- which first pressed private choppers for search operations after losing contact with the CM's helicopter -- contacted the defence ministry around 12.30 pm. The defence ministry choppers could not take off from Hyderabad before 1.30 pm and had to return in an hour due to bad weather. Later, Dornier aircraft and low flying planes with remote sensing capability were used.
Though the Nalamalla forest area has naxal presence, security and intelligence officials discount any sabotage or action even after a crash. They feel bad weather or some technical fault could be the reason for a mishap.
Even national security advisor M K Narayanan, while talking to a television channel, admitted that the government was not taking any chance keeping in mind the naxal presence. Anti-naxal commandoes could also be used given their training for negotiating forest areas.
The NSA, however, ruled out the possibility of naxals bringing down the CM's chopper. He said, "Naxal strike seems extremely improbable. I would almost entirely rule it out. I do not think the naxalites have the capability to bring down the helicopter."
ISRO satellites are also being used, though they will not cover the area till Thursday morning. US ambassador to India Timothy J Roemer spoke to home minister P Chidambaram and offered all help. The nature of assistance or requests was not specified but could include technical assistance like satellite surveillance.
Chidambaram, who rushed to Delhi from Chandigarh after getting a message of missing chopper around 11 am, said in the evening, "There is no good news yet. We are keeping our fingers crossed. Our prayers are with Rajasekhara Reddy's family."
The home minister, who is talking to all local SPs and other senior officials, said the search had been stopped for the time being because of weather and light conditions. "Tomorrow, in the first light of the day, helicopters will continue the search," he added.
However, the home minister said the search on foot by forest and revenue officials was on around the point where they think the Bell helicopter was last seen. Police and CRPF personnel were also moving on foot.
The home ministry has rushed five companies of CRPF -- about 600 personnel -- to the area.
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