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India's aerial crashes: many politicians lost lives, others escaped

india Updated: Sep 03, 2009 14:33 IST
India's aerial crashes

The death of Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister YS Rajasekhara Reddy in a chopper accident has put the spotlight on prominent politicians killed in aerial crashes in India, where helicopters are frequently used to ferry VIPs. There are also many who had a close shave.

Aviation experts say the helicopter crash rate is much higher compared to that of commercial planes.

Reddy's chopper fatally crashed in a dense forest when he was flying to a village in Chitoor district for launching a developmental scheme. YSR was confirmed dead on Thursday, nearly 27 hours after the Bell 430 he was flying in went missing.

The tragedy is a grim reminder of the deaths of Indian politicians Sanjay Gandhi, Madhavrao Scindia, GMC Balayogi, S Mohan Kumaramangalam, OP Jindal and Surendra Singh - all of whom died in aerial crashes.

Sanjay Gandhi, the younger son of late prime minister Indira Gandhi, was killed when a glider he was flying crashed shortly after taking off from the Safdarjung airport in Delhi in 1980.

Scindia, a senior Congress leader and a former cabinet minister, was killed in a plane crash on September 30, 2001 when he was travelling to Kanpur to address a public rally.

Six people also lost their lives when the private plane carrying him went down near Mainpuri in Uttar Pradesh.

Lok Sabha Sepaker and Telugu Desam Party (TDP) leader GMC Balayogi died in a chopper crash on March 3, 2002 in West Godavari district of Andhra Pradesh.

Balayogi was travelling in a Bell 206 helicopter. An official probe established that the 2002 crash was caused when the pilot, unable to continue due to poor visibility and searching for an appropriate place to land, made an error of judgment by mistaking a pond to be a land surface.

S Kumaramangalam, a Congress leader, died in a plane crash in 1973 near New Delhi.

Haryana ministers OP Jindal, also a noted industrialist, and Surendra Singh were killed when the chopper carrying them went down near Saharanpur in Uttar Pradesh March 31, 2005.

But many were luckier.

Senior Congress leader Ahmed Patel and union ministers Prithviraj Chauhan and Kumari Selja had a miraculous escape in 2004 when the rear portion of their chopper broke on landing at a helipad in Khanvel in south Gujarat.

Former Punjab chief minister Amarinder Singh has survived one such chopper accident when it hit electrical wires soon after after taking off. The cables snapped and the chopper crashlanded from a relatively low height. Singh escaped.

BJP president Rajnath Singh and his vice president Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi had a miraculous escape last year when they were travelling to Rampur. The chopper landed close to a pile of dry grass that caught fire. The pilot, however, immediately took off again and landed at a safe place.

Aviation experts say the primary culprit in most helicopter accidents is the pilots' tendency to operate under Visual Flight Rules (VFR) instead of the Instrument Flight Rules (IFR).

IFR allows pilots to fly by just relying on the instrument panels even if they cannot see anything outside the cockpit windows. The VFR, on the other hand, are used by pilots to fly by relying on what all they can see from the cockpit.

According to the US-based International Helicopter Safety Team, the helicopter crash rate is three times higher than that of commercial planes and an international safety team, of which India is a member, has committed to lowering chopper accidents by 80 per cent over the next 10 years.

While the lessons learnt form earlier accidents have forced a series of new regulations, human error and non-compliance of procedures continue to cast a shadow over the safety of helicopter operations, say experts.