Around forenoon, dark gray clouds hovered above the Serai Salem hills in Nallamalla forests, about 250 km south of Hyderabad, as if to mourn the death of Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy. But 25-year-old Maabu couldn’t stop grinning. He has made an unlikely killing: sold more than 500 ice creams in less than half-a-day, that too in a remote hamlet of Nalla Kaluva.
Such was the irony of the situation. Adventure overtook emotion with the heavy influx of crowds coming into the area, where the helicopter of the chief minister of Andhra Pradesh crashed.
The forest terrain with tough weather conditions to boot — extremely slippery mud path and dancing streams after a heavy shower — greeted all those who came in search of their leader from every nook and corner of the state.
This area has had visitors like tigers, panthers, bears and other animals, but so many people in big cars was a little too unusual for the villagers as they just stood and watched.
“We heard the noise, but we thought it was thunder as it was raining heavily in the hills that day,” says Madaiah, a resident of Nalla Kaluva.
Helicopters and later a Sukhoi SU-30MKI started searching on Wednesday for the CM’s chopper and found only ruins at 8.30 am on Thursday.
The ruins were found in between two hills — locally known as Pavurala and Pasuvula — where the search helicopter couldn’t land. Para-commandos slithered down to the crash spot and helped lift the bodies around 10.45 am.
It was no mean task reaching there, but people kept going in long after the bodies were removed from the hill.
Consider this: After walking on foot for 16 kilometers in the forest from Nalla Kaluva, the last human habitation, one would be at the feet of a local deity, Rudrakoti Devi. From there, climbing 10 more kilometers uphill would take you to the place of the crash. Four hours is what it takes one way.
“We were searching in the forests since 8 am and by 9 am our leaders became a little dull and we sensed something’s wrong. Very soon, we got to know that he is no more,” says Koteswar Rao (34) of Vijayawada.
By 4 pm, the number of incoming cars reduced as the sky turned grayer. Rumours spread like wildfire in the villages. “The bodies were actually removed last night. The news was only given today,” says Narendra Naidu (24), who has heard the sound of choppers in the midnight.