YSR, helicopter disappear

Zero visibility and rain hinder search operations

YSR, helicopter disappear

 
Y S Rajashekhara Reddy The Centre pressed into service three IAF helicopters — one Mi-8 from the Air Force Station, Yelahanka, Bangalore, and two Chetaks from the Helicopter Training Wing, Hakimpet, Secunderabad — for the search and rescue operations. An unmanned aerial vehicle from the Defence Ministry has also been pressed into service. Later, 11 more helicopters were deployed, but zero visibility and heavy rain in the forests hindered the search operations. There is no official word whether Reddy and the officials on board the ill-fated chopper are alive or not.

This is not the first time that aicraft carrying high profile political leaders have crashed. In all incidents, the leaders perished along with the others on board. Former Lok Sabha Speaker G M C Balayogi died in a helicopter accident in the Kovvadalanka village of Krishna district in Andhra Pradesh in March 2002. Noted industrialist and Haryana Power Minister O P Jindal and Agriculture Minister Surender Singh were killed at Saharanpur in UP when the helicopter they were travelling crashed in a village in March 2005. Congress leader Madhavrao Scindia died in a crash near Mota village in the Mainpuri district of UP in 2001.

Addressing a joint press conference in Hyderabad on Wednesday evening, AP finance minister K Rosiah and chief secretary Ramakanth Reddy said the chief minister’s copter was not traceable. Ramakanth Reddy said it was possible that the helicopter could have landed in an unfamiliar area from where getting out could be difficult.

Rosiah appealed to the people and tribals in Nallamalla forests to go in search of Reddy before nightfall. This set off panic among YSR supporters and Congress workers who converged on temples, churches and mosques to pray for his safety. Rosiah said the offices of the prime minister, Congress president Sonia Gandhi, Home Minister P Chidambaram and Defence Minister A K Antony are being kept posted about the latest developments.

Chief Minister’s Principal Secretary S Subramanyam and Chief Security Officer A S C Wesley and two pilots were also on board the twin-engined government helicopter.
Chidambaram said in Delhi that he was personally monitoring the situation. Civil Aviation Secretary M Madhavan Nambiar said there was no information about the whereabouts of the helicopter.

The Home Ministry was coordinating search operations, he said. Meanwhile, the Congress president has expressed concern over the incident and was monitoring the developments.

YSR, as the chief minister is popularly known, left around 8:30 am to launch a unique programme of surprise visits to villages, aimed at interacting with the people in the rural areas and checking the implementation of  development programmes.

He was to launch the programme, named Racchabanda, in Anupalli village in Chittoor district. Rajasekhara Reddy, 60, led the Congress to its second consecutive victory in the assembly elections last May.

His helicopter took off at 8.30 am and was scheduled to land around 10.45 am  in Chittoor, which is about 600 km away. Around 9.13 am, the ground control lost radio contact with the helicopter.

Air Traffic Control sources said the helicopter went off the radar due to heavy rain. Earlier, official sources, including the chief minister’s office, confirmed that the helicopter had crashlanded.  They had said Reddy was safe and that he was on his way to Chittoor by road. Rosiah had also confirmed that the chief minister’s helicopter landed in a forest area in Chittoor district, and efforts were on to locate it.

The focus is on the Nallamalla forests which span about 1,000 sq km across Kurnool, Mahbubnagar, Nalgonda, Guntur, Prakasam and Nellore districts since the forests are a hotbed of Maoist activity. However, since 2005, when the Maoists were on the run by the police they are said to have moved to neighbouring states of Maharashtra, Orissa and Chattisgarh.

Although their numbers are said to have drastically reduced, there are enough of the armed cadres in the forests to cause worry.  According to police sources here, the Maoists have recently acquired the capability of targeting helicopters. Opposition leaders N Chandrababu Naidu of the Telugu Desam Party and K Chiranjeevi of the Praja Rajyam Party said they hoped the chief minister would return safely.

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