The Pawan Hans helicopter carrying Arunachal Pradesh chief minister Dorjee Khandu and four others remained untraced for the third day on Monday. Weather hampered search operations too, but technological inputs helped security forces narrow down the hunt to three areas along the India-Bhutan border.
The chief minister’s office in state capital Itanagar said satellite imagery by ISRO and aerial mapping by Sukhoi-30s on Sunday helped zero in on three locations where the chopper could have landed or crashed.
Aerial and ground search is accordingly being concentrated in Eaglenest Bird Sanctuary and Bagajan in Arunachal Pradesh’ West Kameng district, and in Nobi village in the adjoining Trashi Yangtse district of Bhutan. “The weather is creating obstacles, but we hope 4,000 rescuers on the job will come up with something,” said government spokesman Jarbom Gamlin.
As was the case on Sunday, weather delayed Monday’s search operations. A spokesperson at the army’s Tezpur (Assam)-based 4 Corps headquarters said 38 columns of army, ITBP and SSB personnel resumed the hunt for Khandu’s chopper around 6:15am.
Two Mi-17 choppers made eight sorties in the morning to locate the four-seater Pawan Hans helicopter that disappeared 20 minutes after taking off from Tawang Saturday morning. Bad weather forced the choppers to return to base while other defence helicopters had to be grounded.
Khandu, 56, was headed for Itanagar in that chopper along with his security officer Yeshi Choddak and Yeshi Lamu, sister of Tawang MLA Tsewang Dhondup. JS Babbar and TS Malik were the pilots.
People from Mukto, Khandu’s constituency in Tawang district, also formed search parties comprising 25 members each to locate the missing chopper. In Tawang town, Buddhist monks of Tawang Monastery arranged special prayers for the second successive day to pray for the safety of the chief minister, their best patron.
Mystery shrouded the chopper’s disappearance after Dhondup and principal secretary to chief minister Yeshi Tsering received a call purportedly from Khandu saying he had landed in Bhutanand was safe. The calls were made a couple of hours after the chopper disappeared around 10:15 am on Saturday.
Police intelligence in Arunachal Pradesh are probing the possibly hoax calls.