Eyewitnesses in Bhutan say they saw chopper trying to land

May 1st, 2011 - 6:58 pm ICT by ANI  

ISRO Itanagar/Guwahati, May 1 (ANI): Official sources in the Arunachal Pradesh Government have said they are attempting to get in touch with some witnesses in Bhutan who have claimed seeing a chopper descending in their area, and then taking off in a north easterly direction.

The statement came as the search operation for missing Arunachal Pradesh Chief Minister Dorjee Khandu and four others was called off on Sunday due to inclement weather and receding light.

The Government of India is trying to get in touch with the Bhutanese locals.

Meanwhile, the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) has released images of the area where its two satellites were used to try to find the missing chopper.

The chief minister’s principal secretary, Yeshi Tsering, has also revealed that he received a phone call from a person who told him that the chief minister was safe in Bhutan. He suggested that it could have been Khandu. But this is yet to be corroborated and confirmed.

Pawan Hans has defended itself by saying that the missing helicopter was four-months old and in perfect condition technically.

In a statement, Pawan Hans said VIPs had used the chopper previously without experiencing any problem.

The defence of the chopper came as Chief Minister Khandu’s adviser Kiren Rijiju said there was need to take a strong view on the maintenance capabilities of Pawan Hans.

He said the maintenance of choppers by the organization was erratic. He also said that as of now there was no official confirmation about the chopper landing in Bhutan.

Meanwhile, the two central government ministers - V. Narayanswamy and Mukul Wasnik - are traveling from Guwahati to Itanagar by road. They have been asked to meet with the family members of Chief Minister Khandu and Arunachal Pradesh Government officials to get a grip on the situation on ground.

Two Sukhoi-30 aircraft and other Indian Air Force (IAF) aircraft have been deployed to search for Khandu and the other missing persons.

The Sukhoi-30 jets took off from the Indian Air Force base in Bareilly this morning. The IAF has completed three sorties of the area.

Though some Arunachal Pradesh Government officials have said the chopper has made an emergency landing in Bhutan, the Bhutanese Government has said that no such emergency landing has been made.

External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna has reportedly spoken to his Bhutanese counterpart Lyonpo Ugyen Tshering and requested him to provide assistance in the search and rescue effort.

The search operation is being conducted under the supervision of the commander of the Army 4 Corp. About 30 army columns, besides paramilitaries are conducting the search operations on the Indian side. The Indian Air Force is backing them.

Bhutanese forces moved to the east of their country to meet up with their Indian counterparts and join in the search operation.

Over one thousand villagers living along the Arunachal Pradesh-Bhutan border fanned out early on Sunday morning to search for the missing helicopter.

Two MI-17 helicopters have also been deployed for the search operations. Only one of the two has been able to reach Itanagar.

The missing Pawan Hans AS350 B-3 helicopter that took off from Tawang at 9.50 a.m. on Saturday lost communication with the ground after it flew past the Sela Pass along the Chinese border about 20 to 25 minutes later. The helicopter was scheduled to land in Itanagar at 11.30 a.m. on Saturday.

The state government has also set up a crisis management cell with Principal Secretary to Chief Minister Yeshi Tsering, Civil Aviation Commissioner Hage Khoda, Home Secretary A K Srivastav, Inspector General of Police S.B.K. Singh, Deputy Inspector General Police (West) Robin Hibu, Deputy Inspector General of Police (Intelligence) Anil Shukla, City Deputy Commissioner Pawan Kumar Sain and Superintendent of Police Apang Tamut as its members.

The committee will be monitoring the situation under the overall guidance and supervision of Chief Secretary Tabam Bam.

On Saturday, several media reports quoted Arunachal Pradesh Governor General (retired) J J Singh and Chief Secretary Bam as saying that the helicopter had landed safely somewhere in eastern Bhutan adjoining Tawang district and that the same helicopter was flying back to Guwahati with the chief minister on board.Bhutan, however, later denied that any Indian helicopter had landed in its territory, but said a search operation was launched following request from New Delhi.

Apart from Khandu, the people on board included crew members Captain J S Babbar and Captain K S Malick, Khandu’s security officer Yeshi Choddak and Yeshi Lamu, sister of Tawang legislator Tsewang Dhondup.

The missing helicopter, AS350 B-3, is a single-engine chopper. In case of an engine failure, there are very slim chances of the helicopter making a safe landing. (ANI)

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