Choppers ferrying pilgrims to Kedarnath and Amarnath shrines have come under the aviation regulator’s watch, following findings of a surprise audit conducted last month.
The inspection at Uttarakhand’s Sahastradhara helipad used by visitors to the Kedarnath temple found that many pilots did not appear for breath checks before operating flights. These mandatory checks were introduced to ensure that pilots were not drunk before entering the cockpit.
“We have grounded at least five pilots,” said a senior DGCA official requesting anonymity.
M Sathiyavathy, chief, DGCA, confirmed that helipads close to these popular shrines were under scrutiny. “The Amarnath yatra started on July 2. Our teams conducted inspections till a day before to ensure safe operations,” she said.
Neelgrath, Seshnag, Panchtharni, Pehalgam and the Holy Caves were some of the helipads under watch, she added.
Last year 3.52 lakh tourists took part in the annual pilgrimage to Amarnath, according to data from the Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) tourism department. “We do not interfere in the matter of air safety. It is up to the aviation companies,” said Mahmood Ahmed Shah, director tourism, J&K.
DGCA sources added that there was a lack of basic safety precautions. “At Sahastradhara, they lay jet fuel barrels on the ground and rolled them closer to a chopper,” said a safety officer.