It was a Himalayan task: Getting the heaviest and biggest helicopter of the Indian Air Force to a newly built helipad 11,660 feet above sea level.
At 9.45 am on Tuesday, with temperatures hovering around -4 degrees Celsius, the Mi-26 helicopter landed on the special helipad near Kedarnath shrine in the Himalayas, enthusing officials and workers engaged in reconstruction works in the area ravaged in the 2013 floods.
The Uttarakhand government has signed an agreement with the IAF to fly heavy machines and vehicles weighing a total of 125 tonnes from the base station at Gauchar in Chamoli to Kedarnath.
The Russian-made Mi-26, the country’s only rotorcraft of its tonnage, will help agencies engaged in reconstruction work by hauling heavy machines and trucks to the mountainous region, speeding up the work.
Machines listed to be flown to one of the most geographically fragile locations in the country include five trucks, two earth-movers, one Hydralift crane and two snow blowers.
Officials of the Nehru Institute of Mountaineering (NIM), the agency taking care of more than 90% of the reconstruction works in the area, said their task would become easy once the Mi-26 starts delivering the machinery and vehicles.
Colonel Ajay Kothiyal, the principal of the institute, said Tuesday’s trial landing was a success. He said the helicopter would help transport heavy and earth-moving machinery under extreme and trying conditions. “So far, it was being done manually,” he said.
Kothiyal said the Mi-26 can carry a maximum of 8 to 10 tonnes in one sortie and will have to make, on an average, two sorties a day, depending on the weather in the region.
At least 5,000 people died in monsoon flooding and landslides that struck parts of Uttarakhand. The Mandakini river in spate destroyed towns along the stream -- Rambara, a portion of Gaurikundu, and the entire township of Kedaranath.