Paramilitary soldiers on Wednesday recovered 20 bodies from a steep hillside in Uttarakhand where a helicopter crashed while on a mission to rescue people stranded in monsoon floods, Air Force Chief NAK Browne said.
Flight Lieutenant K Praveen, who died when his MI-17 V5 helicopter crashed in Gaurikund in Uttarakhand on Tuesday. PTI photo
Browne, who reached Gauchar town on Wednesday morning, said: "All 20 bodies have been recovered. The cockpit voice recorder has also been found.
"We will be able to ascertain the reason for the crash only after analysing the cockpit voice recorder," he added.
The air force chief expressed grief on the death of personnel on Tuesday belonging to the IAF, Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) and the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF).
The crash of MI-17 V5 chopper claimed the lives of nine men of NDRF, six of ITBP and five of IAF.
Browne said the accident took place at 2 pm on Tuesday in an area around Gaurikund when the chopper was returning from Badrinath.
"There were actually three helicopters -- one 10 minutes ahead and the other 10 minutes behind," he said
"They (military personnel) are proud to be here (Uttarakhand) and proud to be doing the job. I am extremely happy with the way they are performing," he said.
"It is a marvellous performance not just by our people but also by the ITBP, army and NDRF.
The helicopter crashed late Tuesday when its rotor blades hit the hillside while returning with survivors of flooding and landslides that have killed more than 1,000 people and washed away thousands of homes, roads and bridges since mid-June in Uttarakhand.
Soldiers using ropes reached the crash site early Wednesday and found the bodies of 20 people, including five Air Force crew members, Browne told reporters.
The helicopter's cockpit voice recorder was recovered and an inquiry has been ordered to determine the cause of the crash, Browne said.
Some 45 aircraft have been used in rescue and relief operations, but bad weather has dogged the efforts since Sunday, with intermittent rain and dense fog hanging over the mountains.
Troops on Wednesday were trying to rescue about 5,000 people who remained stranded in the towns of Badrinath and Harsil 10 days after torrential rains triggered the flooding and landslides in Uttarakhand.
Browne visited the hill town of Gauchar, where the air force has mounted its relief and rescue operations. He assured flood survivors that helicopters would rescue everyone stranded in Uttarakhand despite the bad weather and poor visibility.
Hundreds of thousands of Hindus make the Char Dham Yatra pilgrimage to four temple towns in Uttarakhand each year, usually returning home before monsoon rains in July make the mountainous area much more treacherous, but unprecedented heavy rains fell around mid-June this year and caught many by surprise.
About 92,000 people from hundreds of villages and towns hit by the floods have been rescued. Landslides and floods flattened entire towns, roads were washed away and communication links snapped, cutting off many people and necessitating air rescues.