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Wednesday, September 2, 2009

YSR’s chopper goes missing over dense Naxal & tiger-infested Andhra jungle

Country's Biggest Ever Search For The Man Who Gave Cong Decisive Edge In LS Poll 

Satellites To Tribals, Americans To Sukhois, All Pressed Into Action

Hyderabad: A helicopter carrying Andhra Pradesh chief minister Y S Rajasekhar Reddy, two of his staff and two pilots went missing in pouring rain on Wednesday morning over the Naxal and tiger-infested Nallamala forests and with no contact until early Thursday, experts and officials feared the worst. 

    Soon after the chopper lost contact, multiple agencies of the state launched a massive hunt for possible wreckage in 
the desolate terrain. By evening, it expanded into the country's biggest ever search operation with satellites in the sky joining remote sensing aircraft, fighter jets, unmanned aerial vehicles, troops on the ground and even barefoot deer-hunting tribals with bows and arrows. The air force pressed its topline Sukhoi 30 MKI into a night search and flew in Dornier and Avro reconnaissance aircraft. 
    US ambassador to India Tim Roemer and Union home minister P Chidambaram spoke several times through the evening and the US volunteered
to provide information picked up by its satellites. 
    It was a flight that should not have taken off at all. The Met office had forecast not only heavy rainfall but the likelihood of fierce lightning and thunderstorms. But the 60-yearold politician was adamant. He was to kickstart a new village mass-contact programme called Rachabanda from Chittoor district (better known for the Tirupati temple) at 10.30 am and there was no way that he was missing his appointment. 
    The Bell 430 took off at 8.38 am from Begumpet airport, not more than 2 km from Reddy's residence, on its 500-km journey. For about 30 minutes, things were fine and the pilot was in touch with the air traffic control (ATC). But soon after entering the space over the Nallamala forests, it ran into problems. Rain was thick and visibility zero. What happened thereafter remains a mystery so far but in all probability, the helicopter went down. The helicopter was last in contact with the ATC at 9.12 am. The chopper had fuel to fly for 2.45 hours, enough to make it to Chittoor. 
    Apart from Reddy, the chopper was carrying principal secretary to the CM S Subrahmanyam and YSR's chief security officer A S C Wesley. The craft was being piloted by group captain S K Bhatia and captain M S Reddy. 
    "It was last sighted by villagers between Atmakur and Bandiatmakur close to Rollapenta entering the Nallamala forests from Kurnool district towards Prakasam district between 9.15 am and 9.30 am,'' chief secretary P Ramakanth Reddy said. 

Pilot's last msg: Climbing 550... 

    Victor Tango Alpha Papa Golf calling Chennai radio. We are from Hyderabad heading for Chittoor...We are climbing 550 (5,500 ft). " "Roger" That was the last radio communication from the pilot of YSR's chopper to the Flight Information Region in Chennai, at around 9.10 am. P 14 
8.38 am Chopper takes off from Hyderabad for Chittoor (approx 500 km), where YSR was to launch mass contact plan. Accompanied by principal secy S Subrahmanyam & chief security officer A S C Wesley 
9.35 am Copter declared missing. Last known coordinates: 168°, 79 nautical miles from Hyderabad. Around 10.15 am, private choppers pressed into search operations 1.30 pm Defence Chetak choppers join search but are forced to return within an hour because of bad weather 2.30 pm 2 IAF MI-8 choppers mobilised. Dornier and Avro planes 
    called in. Unmanned Aerial Vehicle on stand-by 

5.30 pm 5 companies of CRPF (600 men) enter Nallamala forest with night vision devices. By sunset, 20 teams, including 3 columns of army, state police (including anti-Naxal squads), forest and revenue officials enter 1,000 sqkm area 
Primitive tribe of Chenchus, who hunt with bows and arrows, approached for assistance 6.30 pm Chopper search called off due to poor light & bad weather. After sundown, IAF's Sukhoi-30 MKI with thermal imaging devices used 
First became an MLA in 1978 at 29, and a state minister 2 years later 
    In 2003, undertook a padayatra of the state, which helped him deal a stunning defeat to Chandrababu Naidu in the 2004 assembly polls 
    Confounded pundits and pollsters to lead Congress to 33 LS seats from Andhra in 2009, the highest won by the party in any state 
Aug 18, 1945 | Subhash Chandra Bose. Mysterious disappearance over JapanJan 24, 1966 | N-scientist Homi Bhabha in Air-India crash in Switzerland May 31, 1972 | S Mohan Kumaramangalam in IA plane crash in Delhi 
June 23, 1980 | Sanjay Gandhi while piloting a biplane over Delhi 
1990 | Industrialist Ashok Birla in plane crash 
Sep 30, 2001 | Madhavrao Scindia in crash in Mainpuri 
Mar 3, 2002 | LS Speaker GMC Balayogi in copter 
crash in Andhra Pradesh 
Mar 31, 2005 | Bansi Lal's son and Haryana agriculture minister Surender Singh & industrialist O P Jindal in helicopter crash in UP 

SURVIVOR | Then PM Morarji Desai walked away from a plane crash at Jorhat (Assam) on November 4, 1977 

The Machine 
The Bell 430 is a twin-engined light-medium chopper built by Bell Helicopter Textron 
    The missing copter was 11 years old and had twice developed technical snags earlier. Was taken out of the CM's service but used on Wednesday since the regular Westland chopper was unavailable due to servicing 
Armed Reds lurk in Black Hills 
Hyderabad: As news of the Andhra CM's chopper going missing reached New Delhi, there was a flurry of activity in the Congress and the home ministry went into a tizzy, setting in motion all emergency procedures possible. Minister of state for defence P Raju said the emergency locating transmitter (ELT) had not been activated and this gave hope that the chopper had made a safe landing. 
    What is causing immense worry is that Nallamala, or 'Black Hills' in Telugu, is a dense, hilly forest that is an extension of the Eastern Ghats. It was once the main area of operation for Andhra Naxals and armed cadres are still suspected to be hiding out in 
the forest camps. But what is known for sure is that the forest is tiger territory. "For the last three days, the forest region has seen heavy rains and zero visibility. The Krishna and Tungabhadra rivers are overflowing and the Srisailam reservoir is full. The area is full of water,'' A V Rao, a Kurnool resident, told TOI. The area is sparsely populated with Chenchu tribals. "It is an inaccessible area with no cellphone towers, radio signals,'' Rao added. Strangely enough for a helicopter carrying the chief minister, the Bell 430 did not have a satellite phone connection. 
    Alarm bells started ring
ing in the state government headquarters from mid-day but police parties which were sent out drew a blank as they could not venture out too far in pouring rain. Meanwhile, the rumour mill was active with stories flying thick and fast about how the chief minister had been rescued. Faced with a barrage of queries, finance minister K Rosiah called a press conference to deny that Reddy had been found. Later in the day, chief secretary Ramakanth Reddy said two IAF helicopters from Bangalore and one private chopper from Krishnapatnam in Nellore district scoured the area but found no sign of the CM's chopper. "Earlier, two IAF choppers from Hakimpet had set out but had to return halfway because of the inclement weather. The state has now deployed an aircraft belonging to the National Remote Sensing Agency (NRSA) which is operating throughout Monday night at a height of 1.5 km over the forest area where the helicopter was last sighted,'' the chief secretary said. Teams which entered the Nallamala forests during the day on foot had to return because of adverse weather conditions. "We went up to 20 km into the forest but had to return as the rivers are in spate,'' K Subba Reddy, a local resident of Velgodu village, told TOI over phone after returning to the village. Late on Wednesday, hundreds of Greyhound personnel moved into the Nallamala forest riding on tractors borrowed from Nallakaluva village in Kurnool district as part of thesearch operations. Officials from the revenue and forest departments, AP Special Police and tribals were also pressed into service, the chief secretary said. TNN

Andhra Pradesh CM Y S R Reddy


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