When the first alert of Arunachal Pradesh chief minister Dorjee Khandu’s helicopter going missing was sounded around Saturday noon, it was a déjà vu moment. Just 18 months ago, Andhra Pradesh chief minister YSR Reddy had died in a chopper mishap under similar circumstances.
The cloud of gloom lifted at 2 pm, with reports of an emergency landing in Bhutan, but little did anyone know that the lost-found-lost drama would continue for the rest of the day.
Khandu, 56, accompanied by the sister of Tawang MLA Tsewang Dhondup and a security officer, took off from Tawang, for Itanagar in a Pawan Hans Eurocopter B3 craft at 9.55am in partly cloudy conditions.
A two-member team from the Directorate General of Civil Aviation will leave for Arunachal on Sunday. Till late in the evening, no contact had been made with the pilot. Air traffic control at Guwahati airport said they lost contact with the chopper after the last communication from the pilot 20 minutes after take-off.
“The coordinates of the chopper then were near Sela (85 km south of Tawang),” an ATC officer said.
At 11.05am, when the chopper did not land, officials raised an alarm. But after couple of hours, two army choppers had to abort the search operation because of inclement weather. Shortly after, TV channels quoted Arunachal governor JJ Singh as saying the chopper had made an emergency landing in eastern Bhutan and that Khandu and the others were safe. A chain of ‘confirmations’ about Khandu’s safety followed from the CM’s office, chief secretary Tabam Bam, principal adviser to the CM Kiren Rijiju and home minister Tako Dabi.
But Bhutanese authorities denied it. Indian envoy to Bhutan PK Varma said: “There is no confirmation about the helicopter landing in Bhutan.” And by evening, officials and politicians were saying they “hoped” the CM was safe.Pawan Hans officials in Guwahati refused to talk. The Meghalaya government suspended Pawan Hans services and Arunachal followed suit.