with Arunachal chief minister missing
surrounds the whereabouts of a helicopter carrying Arunachal
Pradesh Chief Minister Dorjee Khandu with authorities in Bhutan
denying earlier official claims that it had landed there amid
Bad weather Sunday forced the Indian Air Force (IAF) to suspend
its search for the helicopter which disappeared about 35 hours
earlier with Arunachal Pradesh Chief Minister Dorjee Khandu, but
Indian and Bhutanese troops continued their search in hostile
With concern rising in Arunachal Pradesh and elsewhere over the
fate of Dorjee and four others in the Pawan Hans chopper that
disappeared Saturday morning, officials overseeing the search had
their fingers crossed.
The Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) released imageries
of the mountainous area taken by its satellites, but the biggest
dampener was the inclement weather, particularly after darkness
The IAF initially planned to press two MI-17 helicopters from
Tawang near the China border, from where the chief minister had
taken off, but only one could take off.
Only one MI 17 made two sorties but returned to Tawang due to bad
weather, Ranjeeb Sahoo, IAF spokesman at the Eastern Air Command
headquarters in Shillong, told IANS.
Two Cheetah helicopters were also to take off from Tezpur in Assam
but were held up due to bad weather.
Two Sukhoi-30 aircraft, however, flew over a wide area and
completed aerial mapping to get clues that may lead the search
teams to the missing chopper -- and its occupants if they are
On the ground, Bhutanese troops backed by locals searched the
terrain for any sign of the chopper in Bhutanese territory,
official S. Duba told IANS by phone from an area that adjoins
Tawang in Arunachal Pradesh.
Backing the Bhutanese in the search were Indian soldiers and men
from the Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) as well as Sashastra
The AS350 B-3 helicopter lost contact with ground control after
taking off from Tawang at 9.50 a.m. Saturday.
The last communication was at 10.15 a.m. as it flew over the Sela
Pass along the Chinese border, perched at an altitude of 13,700
"We are hoping against hope to get some news about the helicopter
and its occupants. Prayers are being held in all the Buddhist
monasteries for some good news," Congress legislator from Tawang
Tsewang Dhondup told IANS.
Dhondup's younger sister Yeshmi Lamu is the lone woman occupant in
the helicopter. She was reportedly on her way to Itanagar, the
state capital, for a medical checkup.
The others on board included crew members Captain J.S. Babbar and
Captain K.S. Malick as well as Khandu's security officer Yeshi
"Everybody is praying for the chief minister and the others,"
civil rights leader Baman Felix said.
He wanted to know why the Arunachal Pradesh governor J.J. Singh
made "an irresponsible statement" Saturday that the chopper had
safely landed -- a statement that turned out to be false.
There were also reports of the chopper landing in eastern Bhutan.
This too was denied.
The helicopter carrying Khandu was a single-engine chopper. In
case of an engine failure, there are slim chances of the
helicopter making a safe landing.
"We have not been able to contact our pilots," a despondent Pawan
Hans official said in Guwahati.
The incident comes just days after a Pawan Hans helicopter crashed
in Tawang April 19, killing 17 people and injuring six.
Pawan Hans has been operating five helicopters across Arunachal
Pradesh, Sikkim, Meghalaya, Nagaland and Tripura and daily
Guwahati-Tawang services for nine years.
It is one of the major lifelines of landlocked Arunachal Pradesh.
Meanwhile, central ministers Mukul Wasnik and V. Narayanasamy have
arrived in Itanagar to oversee the search operations following a
directive from Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.