5 bodies, a crashed chopper

Tragedy Unfolds: Wreckage located between Rollapenta and Rudrakoderu around 8:30 am

YSR Reddy &  Principal Secretary S Subramanyam (back) inside the ill-fated Bell 430 helicopter, that crash-landed on a hillock near Kurnool, moments before its take-off from Begumpet airport. PTI

The helicopter that went missing around 9:35 am on Wednesday had crashed in dense jungles during a pounding rainstorm, killing Chief Minister Y S Rajasekhara Reddy and four others.

Rescuers, primarily comprising Army commandos and Indian Air Force (IAF) personnel, retrieved the bodies of Reddy, Dr P Subramaniam, the special secretary to the Chief Minister; ASC Wesley, Chief Security Officer and pilot Group Captain S K Bhatia and co-pilot Captain M S Reddy.

The helicopter carrying Reddy lost contact with air traffic controller (ATC) on Wednesday morning, setting off, perhaps, the most frantic and extensive 24-hour search operation involving the army, air force and police in and over Kurnool, an area believed to be a stronghold of Maoist rebels. YSR left for Chittoor district on Wednesday morning to launch a programme for the poor.

The scene of the crash, which is believed to have occurred after the helicopter slammed into a cliff because of inclement weather conditions and poor visibility, was reached by rescuers after hacking through dense foliage. The charred bodies of YSR, 60, and the four officials and the mangled and burnt remains of the Bell helicopter were found scattered over a large area. The wreckage was discovered on a hill about 40 nautical miles from Kurnool district. The bodies were charred beyond recognition. YSR’s body was identified with the help of his wristwatch while the others could be identified because of the clothes they wore.

Briefing the media after identifying the body, state Finance Minister K Rosaiah, who was later sworn-in as chief minister, said the helicopter deviated 18 kms east from its flight path, near Rudra Koderu in the Nallamala forest range in Kurnool district, before it hit a cliff and crashed. “The chopper hit the cliff, crashed and exploded. All the five persons on the ill-fated helicopter were burnt to death,” he said.

YSR’s body was flown to Hyderabad later on Thursday evening and placed in state at his Begumpet official residence. The Centre declared that YSR would be accorded a state funeral. As a mark of respect, the state government would observe a seven-day mourning beginning on Friday.

The national flag would be flown at half-mast during this period of mourning throughout the state. All state government offices, schools and colleges in the state remained closed on Thursday. The government has also declared a holiday for government offices, schools and colleges on Friday, when the funeral will take place, according to an official communique.

All roads leading to the CM’s office were jammed with people and party workers waiting in long queues for the body’s arrival. Laser screens were placed outside the residence to enable people to have a last glimpse of the firebrand leader who played a crucial role in the Congress’ return to power at the Centre in 2004 and 2009.

YSR’s body will be taken to Lal Bahadur Stadium on Friday morning for public viewing. Later the same evening it will be taken to his family home in Idupulapalya in Cuddapah district for the last rites.

Giving details of the crash, police chief S S P Yadav said the bodies were charred and had begun to decompose. Except for the tail portion, the Bell-430 helicopter of AP Aviation Corporation was reduced to bits of metal. As the terrain was extremely hostile, army commandos were air-dropped on the hilltop.

“Initially, three bodies were traced and then the fourth one. It took a while to locate the fifth body. We have identified the bodies from the dresses,” Yadav said. The wreckage was located between Rollapenta and Rudra Koderu in Kurnool district. The bodies were first taken by an Indian Air Force helicopter to Kurnool for police formalities and then to Hyderabad. Each of the four bodies of the CM’s fellow travellers were accompanied by a minister to their respective homes.

Experts here are wondering why the CM was not advised against taking a helicopter for a long flight of 600 kms. “Helicopters are meant for short hauls of 100 to 150 kilometres, not for long journeys,” said former police chief P Ramulu. “They (the CM’s security advisers) should have flown either to Tirupati or Chennai by regular flight and then taken a helicopter from there. Aircraft are much safer than helicopters,” he said. Ramulu, who served as the DGP during the Telugu Desam Party’s tenure in power, has since joined the TDP. He also expressed surprise that the chief minister travelled on a Bell 430 helicopter when a much advanced Augusta Westland AW-39 helicopter was available with the state government. The TDP government had purchased the Westland helicopter for Rs 58 crore “That is a much safer helicopter,” the former DGP said. “I don’t know where this Bell helicopter has come from,” he said.

As an immediate and emergency move Rosaiah was sworn-in as caretaker chief minister on Thursday afternoon. He was administered the oath of office and secrecy by Governor Narayan Dutt Tiwari at the Raj Bhavan.

Union Law Minister M Veerappa Moily, who is in charge of AP Congress Committee affairs, Union Minister of State Prithvi Raj Chauhan, several state ministers, MPs and APCC president D Srinivas were present.

Cong condolence

Congress president Sonia Gandhi on Thursday led the party in mourning the death of Reddy. “This is a huge loss for the party,” she told media-persons after the Congress Working Committee met briefly to condole the death of the party’s most popular CM.
“We were all praying for him (Reddy) last night, but our worst fears came true and we got the terrible news at around 8-20 this morning,” said a visibly saddened Gandhi, who had monitored the efforts to trace Reddy’s  missing chopper all through Wednesday.

The Congress president and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh will fly to Hyderabad on Friday to pay homage to late leader. The All India Congress Committee general secretary Rahul Gandhi may also accompany them.


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