An Indian Air Force helicopter crashed near Tawang in northwestern Arunachal Pradesh on Friday afternoon, killing all the 12 officers and crew on board.
An explosion barely three minutes after takeoff is said to be the cause of the crash at 12.05 pm. Eyewitnesses said the helicopter “burst like crackers” after ascending from the helipad in Tawang.
The helicopter crashed at Bomdir, 10 km downhill by road, at an elevation of 11,000 ft. Tawang’s civilian helipad is located at Bomdir. “We saw the helicopter go boom like a massive firecracker,” said local trader Sonam Thinley from Tawang. Lt Col Rajesh Kalia, spokesman of the army’s 4 Corps based in Tezpur in central Assam, said, “The bodies of all the officers and crew have been recovered. They included 11 IAF personnel, two of them flight lieutenants and an army officer (a lieutenant colonel).” The Tawang sector is under the jurisdiction of the 4 Corps.
Friday’s mishap is the first in 13 years not be blamed on bad weather since Tawang was sunny on Friday. But IAF officials were reluctant to attribute it to an explosion either.
“Technical fault is a possibility, but everything will be clear after the commission of inquiry set up to probe the crash submits its report,” a senior IAF officer said on condition of anonymity.
Although the eastern Himalayan belt from Tawang to Mechuka in West Siang district in central Arunachal Pradesh is considered to be aviation-unfriendly, IAF and army aircraft have to operate in this belt to service the forward posts. In May 2001, Arunachal Pradesh minister Dera Natung and five others died when their Pawan Hans aircraft crashed near Tawang due to poor visibility.
On 14 November 1997, minister of state for defence NVN Somu and Major General Ramesh Nagpal and two others died when their four-seater Cheetah hit a 1300-ft peak 40 km from Tawang.