17 killed in Arunachal chopper crash, six survive (Fourth Lead)

April 19th, 2011 - 10:55 pm ICT by IANS  

Guwahati/New Delhi, April 19 (IANS) Seventeen people were killed and six, including both the pilots, survived miraculously when a commercial helicopter crashed and burst into flames Tuesday just before landing at a high altitude helipad in Arunachal Pradesh.

“In all, 17 people have died in the crash and there were six survivors, including both the pilots, and they have been shifted to hospital with serious injuries,” A. Toko, assistant director of the civil aviation department of Arunachal Pradesh, told IANS by telephone from Itanagar.

The chopper, of the central government-owned Pawan Hans Helicopters Ltd, caught fire just as it was about to land at the Tawang helipad located at an altitude of 11,000 feet, bordering China’s Tibet region.

“The chopper caught fire just few metres above the Tawang helipad as it was about to land and then crashed into the boundary wall of the helipad and burst into flames,” Toko said.

There were 23 people on board the chopper - 16 adult passengers, two minors, two pilots, and three crew members. All the passengers were Indians and mostly tourists.

Among the six survivors is a minor boy.

At least four of those killed were from Guwahati - all of them were on a holiday to Tawang.

“Most of the bodies were charred beyond recognition and it would be tough to identify some of them,” a Pawan Hans official said.

The Mi-172 helicopter took off from Guwahati, the main city in the northeastern state of Assam, to Tawang at 12.50 p.m. and crashed around 13.57 p.m.

“There was no problem with the weather condition and, according to preliminary reports, it appears the crash was due to some technical fault,” the official said.

The Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) has ordered an enquiry into the crash.

“A team of DGCA experts led by director general E.K. Bharat Bhushan and Pawan Hans officials are arriving at Tawang to conduct the probe to pinpoint the cause of the crash. The two pilots who are alive could also provide vital clues,” a Pawan Hans official said.

Efforts are on to locate the black box from the crash site.

According to a company official, the area where the helipad is located had fine weather for operating a chopper and that this was the first accident the company had suffered in the region.

“We have been operating the service for around nine years now. Even yesterday the same chopper flew back and forth from here carrying passengers. We are waiting for the rescue operations to end to ascertain the cause of the crash,” the official, who is located in Arunachal capital Itanagar, told IANS on the phone.

Currently, PHHL provides helicopter support services to the state governments of Arunachal Pradesh, Meghalaya, Tripura, Sikkim and Nagaland. The company has located five kinds of helicopters in these states for the services.

In November last year, 12 army personnel were killed when a Mi-17 helicopter crashed near Tawang just after take off.

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