The helicopter carrying Arunachal Pradesh Chief Minister Dorjee Khandu and four others remained untraced for the second day today as inclement weather hampered a massive ground and aerial search involving Sukhoi war planes, several choppers and satellite imagery.
Two IAF Sukhois from Bareilly and a MI-17 of IAF joined hundreds of personnel of Army, SSB, ITBP and police in the searches but failed to locate the chopper that went missing yesterday after taking off from Tawang for Itanagar.
Satellite images sought by the Centre from ISRO also did not give any clue as the area where the helicopter ferrying Khandu, 56, went missing was under cloud cover, Indian Space Research Organisation said. "The images are cloud-covered and so far nothing could be spotted," ISRO spokesperson Satish said in Bangalore.
External Affairs Minister S M Krishna spoke to Bhutanese Prime Minister Jigme Thinley seeking assistance in the search. Krishna discussed with Thinley the issue of logistical support to those involved in search operations along the Indo-Bhutan border, sources said in Delhi.
Krishna thanked the Bhutanese Prime Minister for the support being rendered by his government and requested for more teams to be sent for the search.
"Two Cheetah helicopters from Tezpur took to the air at around 3:00 PM, but had to return within half-an-hour due to bad weather," Defence Spokesman Ranjib Sahoo told PTI in Shillong.
"The aerial operations will resume at 5:00 AM tomorrow," Sahoo said. Earlier, an MI-17 helicopter made two sorties for over two hours from 6:00 AM, but had to return due to inclement weather, he said. Two Sukhois from Bareilly in Uttar Pradesh searched in and around the Tawang-Itanagar route.
"The pictures taken will be analysed in a laboratory and based on the findings feed-back will be given to the ground parties conducting the search," spokesman at the Army’s 4 Corps in Tezpur Col N N Joshi said on phone.
Defence sources said 30 columns of the Indian Army comprising 2,400 personnel from Tawang and Tenga were searching on the ground for the missing helicopter on the Indo-Bhutan border. Six ITBP teams with 25 personnel each also joined the ground search operations. Union Ministers Mukul Wasnik and V Narayanasamy were dispatched by the Government to Itanagar to monitor the search operations.
Noting that the weather conditions were a key factor in the search, Narayanasamy said local people were also taking part in the operations which were going on in a concerted manner. Indian Ambassador to Bhutan Pavan Verma said that the operations were being conducted by the Indian Government and the Bhutanese authorities were providing cooperation.
"Since yesterday the Bhutanese have been most cooperative," he said. The four-seater single-engine Pawan Hans helicopter AS-B350-B-3 chopper went missing yesterday 20 minutes after take off from Tawang, 200 kms from here, at 9.56 AM. It was to land at Itanagar at 11:30 AM.