An Indian Air Force sergeant was killed when Maoist rebels opened indiscriminate fire at an IAF Mi-8 helicopter in Chhattisgarh's insurgency-hit Bastar region on Friday, an official in Raipur said.
"Rebels hiding in a hilly pocket opened heavy fire from AK-47s and light machine guns on the chopper in Pidia (in Bijapur district, some 500 km from state capital Raipur), when it was about to take off with a polling party soon after polling ended," Pawan Deo, deputy inspector general at the police headquarters in Raipur, told IANS.
The pilot, Sqn. Ldr TK Choudhary, "skillfully manouvred" the helicopter and managed to land at Bastar headquarters Jagdalpur, an IAF spokesman in New Delhi said.
"During the firing, the flight engineer, Sergeant Mustafa Ali, was hit in the head and was martyred," the spokesman added.
"The extent of the damage to the machine is being studied," the spokesman said, adding that preliminary reports said it was hit on the fuselage, rotors and engines.
The helicopter was carrying 25 people, including three IAF crew members, election officials and injured personnel of the paramilitary Border Security Force (BSF), the spokesman said.
Three IAF helicopters have been deployed on election duty in Chhattisgarh, which had the first phase of polling on Friday to elect a new 90-member state assembly. Elections in four other states - Delhi, Madhya Pradesh, Mizoram and Rajasthan will be held later this month, while voters in Jammu and Kashmir will exercise their franchise from Nov 17 to Dec 24.
This is perhaps the first time an Indian military aircraft has been fired at by Maoist rebels.
A paramilitary Central Reserve Police Force trooper, Dharmendra Rai, was killed in a gun battle with insurgents in Kanker district on Friday afternoon, police in Raipur said.