Andhra recalls agonising day after YSR helicopter went missingSeptember 1st, 2010 - 6:24 pm ICT by IANS
By Mohammed Shafeeq
Hyderabad, Sep 1 (IANS) As Andhra Pradesh remembers Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy, one of its biggest mass leaders, on his first death anniversary, the occasion also brings back the agonising memories of those 24 hours after the helicopter carrying him went missing.
Sep 2, 2009 was like any other day for Yeduguri Sandinti Rajasekhara Reddy, popularly known as YSR. A day after passing of the budget in the state legislature, he embarked on a journey to launch another innovative public programme, ignoring the advice of his family members to take rest at least for a day.
Four months after leading Congress party to a second successive term, YSR wanted to go on without a break. He left for Anuppalle village in Chittoor district to launch a Racchabanda programme under which the former physician who read the public pulse very well was to interact with the villagers to understand their problems.
But, it was not to be. The government-owned Bell 430 helicopter (BT-APG), carrying YSR, his Principal Secretary P. Subramanyam, Chief Security Officer A.S.C. Wesley, pilot Group Captain S.K. Bhatia and co-pilot M.S. Reddy, took off at around 8.35 a.m. from Begumpet airport here.
Just half an hour later it went off the radar screens amid bad weather and incessant rains. Though the helicopter lost contact with the Air Traffic Control (ATC) in Chennai at 9.02 a.m., it was only two and half hours later that the Chief Minister’s Office (CMO) came to know about it.
The CMO pressed the panic button after it received a message from Chittoor district that the chopper did not land there. All efforts to contact the CM and others went in vain.
It was panic at the state secretariat as ministers and top bureaucrats rushed in. Minister for Social Welfare P. Subhash Chandrabose told reporters that the CM was safe after an emergency landing of the helicopter in Kurnool district. The reports by Sakshi channel, owned by YSR’s family, that he was being brought to Hyderabad in an army helicopter only added to the confusion.
It was only at 3 p.m. that the public realised that something had gone horribly wrong. Rosaiah told reporters that the helicopter was yet to be found.
He appealed to people, especially tribals living in Nallamalla forests, to help in tracing the chopper. The government and YSR’s family kept on holding on to the hope that the helicopter may have made an emergency landing somewhere.
As panic spread from Hyderabad to Delhi, eight helicopters of the Indian Air Force and the Army joined the police and civil authorities in the biggest ever search operation for any chief minister. But, the choppers had to return without success due to continuing rains in the region.
With daylight giving way to twilight, hopes of locating the chopper started to fade even as 5,000 police and paramilitary personnel trekked towards the forest area over which the helicopter was last spotted.
Sukhoi SU-30MKI combat jet of the Indian Air Force, equipped with night vision, continued search operations. Low-flying ISRO-NRSA owned Beechcraft captured images from 1.5 km above the area where the helicopter was last seen.
It was one never ending night for YSR’s family and millions of his supporters across the state.
With the sun rising, the IAF helicopters again took to the skies. Based on the imagery, the 225 sq km area was divided into seven sectors and one chopper was assigned to each of these sectors.
It was around 9 a.m. that a chopper located the ill-fated helicopter over Pavaralagutta hillock, about 70 km from Kurnool town.
“We have located the helicopter. It is on top of a hill at a distance of 40 nautical miles east of Kurnool. We are trying to find out if there are survivors,” Wing Commander Bharati told reporters in Kurnool.
“It does not look to be… It looks to have… We are not very sure… whether it has crashed or not,” he said - preferring not to reveal what he had seen.
The worst fears came true. As the investigations later proved, the chopper crashed in the bad weather. All the bodies were charred beyond recognition.
People who were praying for the 60-year-old YSR’s safe return broke into tears.
“I don’t believe that my God is no more,” a Congress party worker said crying inconsolably.
Unable to come to terms with reality, dozens of YSR’s supporters and beneficiaries of his welfare schemes died of shock or committed suicide.
For others, YSR is still alive in their hearts with his legacy in the form of welfare schemes.
(Mohammed Shafeeq can be contacted at email@example.com)
- Andhra pays tributes to YSR on death anniversary - Sep 02, 2012
- Year after YSR, political vacuum continues in Andhra - Sep 01, 2010
- Tributes paid to YSR on second death anniversary - Sep 02, 2011
- Bodies of YSR, four others recovered (Second Lead) - Sep 03, 2009
- Congress in dilemma over YSR legacy (Andhra Newsletter) - Apr 13, 2012
- Andhra chief minister untraced after chopper goes missing (Second Lead) - Sep 02, 2009
- Expert panel blames bad weather for YSR chopper crash - Feb 11, 2010
- Jagan proves he is real successor of YSR's legacy - May 13, 2011
- YSR - a Congress icon and a true mass leader (Lead, Obituary) - Sep 03, 2009
- Congress Working Committee to meet as PMO confirms death of Andhra CM, four others - Sep 03, 2009
- Jagan party shocks Congress, wrests three council seats - Mar 23, 2011
- No foul play, YSR chopper crash blamed on pilots (Lead) - Jan 20, 2010
- Conflicting reports over YSR's whereabouts (Lead) - Sep 02, 2009
- Year after YSR's death, Andhra pays rich tributes - Sep 02, 2010
- Chandrababu Naidu following in YSR's footsteps to regain power - Sep 08, 2012
Tags: air traffic control, bad weather, bell 430 helicopter, bhatia, chief minister, chief security officer, co pilot, congress party, death anniversary, emergency landing, group captain, incessant rains, panic button, pilot group, principal secretary, public pulse, radar screens, shafeeq, social welfare, state secretariat