After five days of search operation, the rescue team had finally found the wreckage of the ill-fated helicopter, which carried Arunachal Pradesh chief minister with four others, in a place near to Tawang with five mutilated and burnt bodies. The government source in the province capital Itanagar on May 4 declared that the family members have already identified the body of chief minister Dorjee Khandu.
“The small group comprising security personnel, local officials and Mr Khandu’s family members reached the location of crash at Luguthang near Jung falls in western Arunachal adjacent to Tibet (China),” the source said.
The news of chief minister’s death spread like wildfire in Arunachal which also angered the people of the northeast Indian State against the Union government in New Delhi for the delay in rescue operation. They had to wait for four days and nights to get the news about their beloved chief minister, who went missing with four other while flying from Tawang to its capital Itanagar in a helicopter on April 30.
The Indian Army and the Indian Space Research Organisation were also engaged in the search operation and all the time it was announced that the operation remains unsuccessful due to bad weather in the snowy mountainous terrain. But then the question came to the mind of the local residents, if the enemy (read China) encroaches to this region, whether the Indian agency could trace them for prevention? After all many residents of Arunachal and Assam have not forgotten about the 1962 Chinese aggregation during which the enemies penetrated through almost the same route.
“The situation remains almost the same in Northeast if you look at the security aspect. You see, the Indian agency took more than four days to spot the crash site of our chief minister. Just imagine, if China attacks us through this route, the security agency will be clueless for many days with the excuse of bad weather,” said Bamang Tago, the chairman of Arunachal Citizen Rights.
Speaking to this writer from Itanagar, Mr Tago condemned the central government for ‘not taking serious attempt’ to rescue the helicopter at the earliest stage. He also criticized the Governor of Arunachal Gen (retired) JJ Singh for his ill-time claim that the helicopter landed inside Bhutan as a precautionary measure immediately soon after the crew members lost contact with the ground.
The single engine helicopter of the government run Pawan Hans Helicopter Services Limited (Eurocopter Ecureuil AS 350 B3) took off from Tawang, the western part of the State at 10 am with his security officer Yeshi Chodak, a relative of Tawang MLA Yeshi Lamu and two crew members (Captain J S Babbar & Captain K S Malick).
The crew members of the helicopter, which was scheduled to arrive in Itanagar by 11.30 in the morning, lost its radio communication with the ground after some time. The Arunachal Pradesh officials initially claimed that the chopper faced bad weather soon after its take off and later took emergency-landing somewhere in Arunachal-Bhutan border.
Then the Governor JJ Singh informed the media that the helicopter landed inside Bhutan and all passengers were safe. But the Bhutan authority immediately denied the landing of any helicopter in that part of the country. The Trashiyangtse (of Bhutan) district magistrate S. Duba, while talking to media, expressed his ignorance about any report of an Indian helicopter landing in their territory.
The Pawan Hans HS Ltd, which operates five helicopters in Arunachal Pradesh, Sikkim, Meghalaya, Nagaland and Tripura, now faces a probe against the Arunachal copper crash. Moreover its service is immediately taken into halt after massive protests from various organizations in the region.
Mentionable that the State witnessed a heartrending Pawan Hans chopper crash on April 19 that killed 17 people and injured 6 others. The injured passengers are recovering in Guwahati and New Delhi hospitals. The ill-fated helicopter was flying from Guwahati to Tawang and crashed near the Tawang town, located at an altitude of over 11,000 feet.
Mr Khandu, 56, took over the charge of chief ministership on April 9, 2007. He replaced Gegong Apang to become the fifth Congress chief minister of the State. Earlier the prime minister Manmohan Singh and the ruling Congress party chief Sonia Gandhi called on the responsible officials at Itanagar to enquire about Mr Khandu and others. Following the direction of Dr Singh, two Union ministers Mukul Wasnik and V Narayanswami arrived in Itanagar on May 1 and started overseeing the rescue operation.
The Indian Air Force helicopters were deployed for immediate rescue operation on Saturday in Tawang-Itanagar route. But bad weather prevented them to maintain their operation for long time. A team comprising personnel from the Army, SSB, ITB were engaged in the operation. Later the Royal Bhutan Army personnel and local Arunachali people were also involved in searching the Pawan Hans helicopter and its passengers.
Even the initial mapping by the Sukhoi radars of Army and also the ISRO satellite could not provide any concrete information about the helicopter, though the images could trace some metallic disposal in west Arunachal bordering Bhutan and Tibet. The ground rescue team after trekking for many hours in the Himalayan mountainous terrain had finally confirmed those of the wreckage of the ill-fated chopper.
Nava Thakuria an independent journalist based in Guwahati of Northeast India.