Monday, August 11, 2008

Desperate search for missing chopper in Naxal territory

RAIPUR, AUGUST 10: Security personnel have now sought the help of locals to locate a private helicopter, with four crew members, which went missing over dense forests in the Maoist hotbed of Dantewara last week.

Naxalites had twice opened fire on the security forces searching the forests for the Ranbaxy-owned Ran Air helicopter Bell-430, which went missing an hour after taking off from Hyderabad last Sunday. Chief pilot V P Singh, co-pilot R Gaur, flight engineer Santosh Kumar and technician Ashwini Kumar were in the chopper when it went missing.

Bastar Divisional Commissioner Ganesh Shankar Mishra said revenue and forest staff in Dantewara have been asked to request the villagers to join the search as the Naxalites don’t usually attack the locals. Pamphlets are being distributed in the district and its bordering areas in Andhra Pradesh, requesting people to join the search. A reward of Rs 1 lakh has been announced for anyone helping locate the missing chopper.

“It’s a tough task for the security forces to venture deep into the forests, particularly in the hilly areas, as the Maoist guerillas attack from hilltops,” a senior police officer told The Indian Express, adding that the search has to be carried out in the so-called Maoist “liberated zone” of South Bastar. Separate teams, comprising 150 security personnel each, have been engaged in operations to trace the helicopter, he added.

Four helicopters, including two of the Indian Air Force, had carried out an aerial search of the area after the crash. Images of the area taken by the National Remote Sensing Agency (NRSA), too, failed to yield any results. The ground searches were meanwhile affected by heavy rains with all rivers and rivulets, including Indravati in Bastar and Godavari of neighbouring Andhra Pradesh, in spate. Most roads and telephones lines in South Bastar are also cut off.

Meanwhile, relatives of the chopper crew have called on Chief Minister Raman Singh and demanded deployment of more security forces for the search operation.

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