IAF rescue chopper crashes, 8 killed

Tragic end: Toll likely to go up; helicopter was carrying 19 people

IAF rescue chopper crashes, 8 killed

At least eight people were killed on Tuesday evening when an Mi-17 V5 helicopter of the Indian Air Force (IAF), engaged in relief and rescue operations in the flood-ravaged Uttarakhand, crashed in the hills while returning from Kedarnath.

The toll is likely to rise as National Disaster Management Authority vice-chairman M Sashidhar Reddy said the chopper was carrying 19 people, including Indo-Tibetan Border Police and National Disaster Response Force personnel. Chances of their survival are remote, he said.

Till the time of filing the report, the IAF had confirmed the death of five crew members and three civilians. A court of inquiry has been ordered to investigate the accident. A team of IAF Garuda commandos has reached the spot north of Gaurikund. Further confirmation on the toll is expected once the search is completed.

“The accident during relief operations has come as a huge shock to me. My heart goes out to the families of those who lost their lives. The nation mourns with me the loss of our heroes whose selfless work has saved thousands of lives,” said Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in a message on the micro-blogging site Twitter.

The Mi-17 V5 helicopter was on a rescue mission from Gauchar to Guptkashi and Kedarnath. It was returning from Kedarnath amid rain and poor visibility when it crashed north of Gaurikund.

The chopper also dropped tonnes of wood in Kedarnath. The wood is to be used for mass cremation of the hundreds of pilgrims who perished in the deluge. This is the second incident of helicopter crash in one week in the hill state.

A private helicopter carrying relief materials for the rain-affected people in
Rudraprayag district crashed on Sunday near Gaurikund, leaving the pilot injured.

The pilots of the IAF, Army Aviation Corps and private helicopters are flying in dangerous conditions to rescue as many people as possible.

The Met office has predicted heavy rain in various parts of the state for the next two-three days. The IAF choppers have been flying whenever and wherever possible to accomplish relief and rescue operations.

Weather in the hill state has been changing suddenly and dramatically, thus presenting a challenge before the pilots who have been flying relentlessly in the treacherous terrain for the last few days. The IAF has stepped up its rescue operations in the state, with 45 aircraft and helicopters undertaking over 1,300 sorties since June 17.IAF chief, Air Marshal N A K Browne, on Monday urged the stranded pilgrims not to lose heart.
“Our helicopter rotors will not stop churning till such time we get each one of you out.
Do not lose hope and hang in there,” he said.

The IAF had started inducting the Mi-17 V5 choppers last year after 80 of them were ordered from Russia.


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