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The cockpit voice recorder and flight data recorder of the ill-fated Mi-17 helicopter were on Wednesday recovered near Gaurikund in Uttarakhand a day after it crashed during rescue mission, even as IAF chief NAK Browne ruled out possibility of any of the 20 men on board surviving.
"Fortunately, we have recovered the cockpit voice recorder and the flight data recorder. And, I think, in a few days' time, we will get to know absolutely as to what exactly happened," he told reporters after interacting with IAF officers and men in Gauchar.
He said that at this juncture, it would be premature for him to comment as to the reason behind the crash - if it was the weather or a technical problem.
Browne said he had been told there were no survivors among the 20 people on board - five from IAF, six from Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) and nine from National Disaster Response Force (NDRF).
Asked if the envelope of safety had been pushed, he said, "I won't say that anything was pushed. In the mountains, especially during the monsoon, weather is always an issue.
But, at this point of time, we are not quite sure if it was the weather or a technical problem (that led to the crash)."
He said during rescue missions the risk factor is always considered very closely and it is reviewed almost on a daily basis.
The IAF pilots, he said, were highly qualified and absolutely competent in carrying out such missions and the morale of the force is extremely high. The performance of the personnel of the IAF and other agencies involved has been "absolutely marvellous".
Browne said if the IAF got three to four days of good weather, it will be able to complete its mission.
"If the weather starts improving by Friday or so, then by Monday, Tuesday we should have all this (task) finished," he said.
Four more bodies were recovered by IAF's Garud commandos near Gaurikund after night-long search operations, Air Force sources said, adding that till this morning 12 bodies have been found from the site of yesterday's crash of the large MI-17 V5 chopper.
The dead include five IAF officials while the identity of others is being ascertained, they said.
The five IAF personnel were a Wing Commander, two Flight Lieutenants, a Junior Warrant Officer and a Sergeant.
The chopper was on a rescue mission from Gauchar to Guptkashi and Kedarnath and crashed Tuesday afternoon north of Gaurikund, according to an IAF spokesperson.
Browne, who rushed here this morning to boost the morale of pilots operating in difficult weather conditions, said after the rescue mission is completed, the Air Force will go into the work of repair of the damaged infrastructure in Uttarakhand for which it would have to bring heavy equipment.
"This kind of work will continue. But, the immediate requirement is to focus ourselves till Tuesday (to bring out the stranded people)," he said.
Browne lauded the local administration for helping the Air Force in carrying out its job.
"We will continue with the job till the mission is done. Our pilots are fully trained for this kind of task. But, the weather is always an issue," he added.
The crash occurred in "difficult" weather conditions created by rains and fog, a senior IAF official said in Gauchar. The chopper belonged to a unit from Barrackpore Air Force Station in West Bengal under the Eastern Air Command.
Browne expressed profound sorrow over the loss of "warriors" from the IAF, NDRF and ITBP in the chopper crash and said, "Our rotors will not stop churning. That means, we will continue with the job till get the people out."
"The operations are going to continue. In fact, most of the work has already been done. It is now a question of getting the people out from Badrinath and the Harsil sector," he added.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has expressed shock over the loss of lives in the helicopter crash.
"This accident during relief operations has come as a huge shock to me. My heart goes out to the families of those who have lost their lives. The nation mourns with me the loss of our heroes whose selfless work has saved thousands of lives," the Prime Minister said yesterday.
"Our forces are conducting a heroic task in rescue and relief work in Uttarakhand. Continuing their work would be the best homage to them," he added.
A Court of Inquiry has been order to investigate the crash, the IAF spokesperson said.
IAF said its operations in the area will continue.
IAF had started inducting Mi-17 V5 choppers only last year after 80 of them were ordered from Russia.
This is the second incident of a helicopter crash this week in the hill state. A private chopper had crashed in Gaurikund area on Sunday leaving the pilot injured.