After four days of search by over 3,000 security forces and choppers, it was finally a group of tribals who on Wednesday found the wreckage of a helicopter that went missing Saturday and the mutilated bodies of Arunachal Pradesh chief minister Dorjee Khandu and four others.
Grieving family members also reached the crash site in a remote hilly region and identified Khandu. But the other four bodies were mutilated and charred beyond recognition, officials said.
Even as Indian Air Force (IAF) helicopters hovered over the cloudy skies, a small team of tribals led by community leader Phukten telephoned Itanagar to inform that they had sighted the wreckage.
This was around 10am on Wednesday -- 96 hours after the Pawan Hans AS350 B-3 helicopter carrying the chief minister and four others lost contact with ground control after taking off from Tawang at 9.50am on Saturday.
The location of the wreckage was identified as Lobotang, 30 km north of the 13,700 feet Sela Pass in Tawang district.
"Some family members could identify the chief minister's body," a police officer told IANS.
Efforts are now on to get the five bodies to the nearest accessible point. But this might take close to seven hours.
"It would be possibly on Thursday that we will be able to get the bodies back at the first accessible point as the terrain is rough and it is snowing heavily," Kiren Rijiju, adviser to the chief minister, told IANS.
The IAF said helicopter sorties were planned on Thursday morning to transfer the mortal remains of Khandu and the others.
Ranjeeb Sahoo, IAF spokesman at the Eastern Air Command headquarters in Shillong, told IANS that ground forces will take the victims to Luguthang, the nearest helipad around two kilometes away.
Meanwhile, a pall of gloom descended in the mountainous state with news of the wreckage being found.
"The news is heartbreaking and we are sad as the chief minister was a real visionary and honest politician. His death has shaken us," said Bamang Tago, a civil rights campaigner.
The body of the chief minister would be flown into Itanagar Thursday.
The Indian Space Research Organization's (ISRO) findings about metallic objects at a place called Nagarjiji area near the Sela Pass in Tawang has gone awfully wrong, with the actual crash site located far away.
"It would take five to six days of trekking from Nagarjiji to Lobotang and it has exposed the failure of Indian technology," said Bamang Tago.
"We need to rethink and rework our technology."
Earlier in the day, an official said a Sukhoi-30 was airborne from Tezpur for radio relay of minute to minute communication from the MI-17 helicopter to the operations centre.
"The coordinates of the crash site was conveyed to the operation room which in turn was forwarded to different agencies for reaching the crash site," he said.