The Pawan Hans helicopter that went missing with Arunachal Pradesh chief minister Dorjee Khandu and four others on board on Saturday, is yet to be found.
The combing of the districts of Tawang, East Kameng and West Kameng, and Bhutan’s Trashigang district by the Bhutanese authorities yielded no result. Bad weather foiled the army’s efforts at aerial mapping and the use of satellite imagery by the Indian Space Research Organisation.The case, however, took a new turn on Saturday night, with the state’s intelligence department launching an investigation into the mysterious calls received by Tawang legislator Tsewang Dhondup and principal secretary to the chief minister Yeshi Tsering.
Dhondup, whose sister Yeshi Lamu was also on the chopper, received a call around 1.30pm from a satellite phone he believes belonged to Khandu. The caller said the chopper had landed in eastern Bhutan.
The caller contacted Tsering in Itanagar too, saying Khandu was safe. The calls came a couple of hours after the helicopter disappeared on Saturday morning.
Deepak Kumar, inspector general of police, wrote to the state’s home secretary, AK Srivastav, outlining the contents of the call Tsering received.
“I asked Tsering if the call received was from the chief minister,” Kumar said. “He said the voice sounded like the CM but he could not identify it.”
One of Khandu’s associates said the CM did not carry a satellite phone. Officials also negated the possibility of the pilots carrying one. “In an emergency, they would have called the Pawan Hans regional office or HQ,” a senior police officer said.
State civil aviation officials, meanwhile, argued that it was unlikely that the chopper had crashed or made an emergency landing. “The emergency locator transmitter in the helicopter should have been beeping continuously for three days in either case,” an official said. “But we have had no signal since the last radio contact around 10.15am on Saturday.”
The contention of the Guwahati airport-based Regional Meteorological Centre — that the pilots had not called for the mandatory weather briefing — deepened the mystery. Experienced pilots — as Pawan Hans claims JS Babbar and TS Malik were — are not expected to make this cardinal mistake.
Taken together, the grey areas have sparked a conspiracy theory. The CM is believed to have earned a few enemies within and outside the party following an undercurrent of dissidence in the Congress government.