After eight days, no sign of missing chopper

August 11th, 2008 - 6:52 pm ICT by IANS  

A file-photo of Bharatiya Janata Party

Raipur/New Delhi, Aug 11 (IANS) Was it shot down by Maoist rebels in the jungles of Chhattisgarh or did it meet with an accident? Eight days after a helicopter owned by Religare company went missing in Chhattisgarh with four crew on board, authorities admitted Monday they were clueless and feared the worst. Thousands of security personnel have been combing the Bailadila hills in the Maoist stronghold of Dantewada for some sign of the missing chopper but to no avail.

“We have formed more search teams which are scouring the thickly forested area of Bailadila hills where we have some indication that the chopper crashed,” Rahul Sharma, district superintendent of police leading the search operation, told IANS.

After it took off from Hyderabad on Aug 3, the Bell-430 Ran Air chopper was scheduled to land at Jagdalpur, the district headquarters of Bastar, for refuelling en route to the capital Raipur. It then went missing.

The four crew on board included the pilot, co-pilot, an engineer and a technician.

The helicopter was booked by the Chhattisgarh government to take Home Minister Ram Vichar Netam from Raipur to the Jharkhand capital Ranchi on Aug 4. Bharatiya Janata Party president Rajnath Singh too was scheduled to use the chopper for party functions in Jharkhand.

According to Sharma, over 2,000 state police personnel backed by the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) and special police officers (SPOs) were engaged in combing operations to locate the chopper and possible survivors.

Due to the thick forest cover and the fear of flying too low because of being shot, two Indian Air Force helicopters assisting in the search operations returned after an unsuccessful recce.

“We have to be careful while pushing for air surveillance. It’s going at a slow pace as there is apprehension that Maoists may use rocket launchers to shoot down the rescue team helicopter if it flies at a low altitude in the region,” said an intelligence official.

Religare operates the helicopters under the Ran Air brand through its subsidiary Ran Air Services Ltd.

Religare is a leading integrated financial services group in India promoted by Malvinder Mohan Singh, the company’s chairperson.

“Despite widespread search and rescue operations by the local police as well as the armed forces there is still no trace of the helicopter missing since Aug 3,” said Subhrangshu Neogi, head, brand and corporate communications, Religare Enterprises.

Malvinder Singh is also the chief executive officer and managing director of India’s largest drugmaker Ranbaxy Laboratories Ltd.

“We have already announced a Rs.100,000 reward to anyone who can provide information on the missing aircraft but there has been no response so far,” Neogi said.

“There has been no ransom demand or any other demand from any group for safe return of the crew on board and the aircraft,” Neogi said while answering a question.

“We are trying to do our best to find the aircraft. Our heart goes out to the crew and their family members,” Neogi said.

“We are keeping constant touch with the family members of the crew and are doing whatever is necessary to assuage their feelings.”

It had earlier been reported that the National Remote Sensing Agency (NRSA) had identified two spots as probable sites where the missing copter could have been found but ground forces found nothing at the sites.

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