Rescue operations intensified


New Delhi, May 3 : At first light on Tuesday, a group of 60 climbers will scale a 14,000-foot peak in Arunachal Pradesh to look for a missing AS350 B3 Eurocopter.

But it is not the only peak to be scanned, either through the eyes of an Isro satellite or Bhutan’s schoolchildren or Sukhoi 30 cameras. There are at least four sites, two each in Arunachal Pradesh and Bhutan, all in cloud-covered forested mountains, where chief minister Dorjee Khandu’s missing chopper has either been reportedly seen flying, heard crashing or “sensed” by satellites.

Rescue teams are leaving no stone unturned to search for the Pawan Hans chopper, even as multiplicity of inputs is making the job tougher than it already is on the treacherous terrain.

The Pawan Hans Helicopters Limited (PHHL) has also announced suspension of all operations in the Northeast for the time being in order to help in the search-and-rescue operations.

Yesterday, mountain scans in West Kameng district through two sorties by the Indian Air Force’s Sukhoi-30s showed what could be the wreckage. Incidentally, images received from Isro’s satellite also highlighted the same coordinates, differing only by “a few seconds”.

The coordinates — 27 degrees, 29 minutes, 28.87 seconds North and 92 degrees 0 minute 38 seconds East — point to an area within the Sakteng wildlife sanctuary in Trashigang, Bhutan. “A joint team of army and Indo Tibetan Police Force (ITBP) will begin scaling the snow-clad mountain tomorrow morning,” said an official.

It will be after more than 56 hours — the helicopter went missing on Saturday morning — that one potential accident site may be reached.

Another team is scaling 8,000 feet to reach Birla Top above “Eagle’s Nest” in the same district. A driver — Tamang — informed the Arunachal Pradesh police yesterday about an “explosion” on the mountaintop, leading to formation of the search party.

Tamang had led a team of medics and a magistrate yesterday afternoon to look for the wreckage.

Then, during the interactions between Indian and Bhutanese officials, the latter said a schoolboy from the Bhutan-Arunchal border had reportedly seen a helicopter hovering. Officials are hoping against hope that the chopper has made its 578th landing (in less than a year), safely.

“Here, the schoolchildren have seen the chopper going towards a high mountain — Tsongsong — in Bhutan,” sources told The Telegraph. The red chopper apparently hovered for a while, attempting to land in the hills underneath and on failing, crossed the Tsongsong peak.

A valley beyond the peak is now a point to be searched, said the sources, adding that in most areas rescue operations would depend on the unpredictable weather conditions. The sorties by the Sukhois had also “sensed” something in that area of Bhutan.

The question asked is how could the chopper have landed in Bhutan if it had already crossed the Sela Pass.

In case of encountering some solid air pockets, the helicopter could have veered off again into Bhutan, the sources said.

Pawan Hans has set up a control room at Safdarjang airport in New Delhi to coordinate and monitor the search and rescue activities.

“We do not fly our helicopters with a defect until they are fully rectified,” said deputy general manager Sanjeev Razdan.