Rahul, chopper land in trouble

Congress leader denies landing in poor visibility; BJP demands probe

Rahul, chopper land in trouble

AICC general secretary Rahul Gandhi addresses a press conference in Lucknow on Tuesday. PTI

Caught in a whirlpool of an unseemly controversy on Tuesday, Rahul vehemently denied he forced the pilots to land the chopper in zero visibility in Sitapur, 85 km from Lucknow, on Monday evening.

“I am the last person who will do that (forcing the pilots to land in zero visibility)... I know the pilots have not broken any rule,” Rahul told reporters in response to a query in this regard.

Stating that he was a pilot himself and knew the consequences of landing in zero visibility, he said the media reports to this effect were incorrect.

“The media reports have landed the pilots in trouble... they were crying that the reports could cost them their job,” he said.

Rahul even went to the extent of disputing UP Congress president Reeta Bahuguna Joshi’s observation on Monday that his chopper had landed in zero visibility. Dismissing Joshi’s stand, Rahul shot back, saying she was not a weather expert and was in position to comment on it.

He backed his point by claiming that he had never breached security rules. But a senior UP government official said that “in Sitapur, he landed after sunset and his helicopter did not land at the earmarked spot”.

Earlier on Tuesday, the Sitapur district magistrate of Sitapur sent a report to the state government, claiming that Rahul’s chopper had landed after sunset on Monday.

The Congress leader’s stand flies in the face of photographs which clearly show that the skies had darkened when he landed in Sitapur, an action which could only have taken place in violation of established security regulations that forbid helicopters from taking off or landing after sunset.

On the other hand, the UP government alleged that Rahul violated security norms during his two-day visit to the state.

“He did not use the bullet-resistant car that was provided to him for road travel. He violated security norms and shook hands with the crowds over the barricades,” a senior government official claimed.

The official said a letter sent to the Union Home Ministry on Tuesday, in which the state government stated that all SPG protectees should inform the state government well in advance and should also ensure that the officials concerned are informed of any changes in the programme.

Meanwhile, Civil Aviation Minister Praful Patel on Tuesday said he was unaware if a helicopter carrying Rahul landed in zero visibility condition in UP on Monday.
BJP leader and former Civil Aviation Minister Shahnawaz Hussain has sought a probe into the incident, alleging the pilot was forced to land in poor visibility conditions. “DGCA rules were violated and Ritaji told that the pilot was not ready but he was forced to land,” he said.

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