An advanced light helicopter (ALH) of the Indian Air Force that was deployed for evacuating people from the flood-hit district of Papum Pare in Arunachal Pradesh since Tuesday morning, had gone missing in the afternoon amid heavy fog and rain. There were three crew members and a police personnel on board when it took off from Sagalee.
The IAF chopper that had already made several sorties since the morning and had evacuated as many as 50 people including several women and children from Sagalee to Itanagar, went missing around 4 PM on Tuesday.
Confirming this, Tezpur-based Defence PRO Lt Col Shombit Ghosh said that ALH with three crew members on board had taken off from Sagalee at around 3:30 PM on Tuesday on its way to Itanagar, but lost contact with ground about 20 minutes later. “The last contact the pilot had with the ground was at 3:50 PM,” Ghosh told The Indian Express. The IAF chopper had gone out of flood rescue operations from its base in Jorhat on Tuesday morning.
Papum Pare additional deputy commissioner J Pertin said the ALH helicopter which was pressed into evacuation of people stranded due to floods in Sagalee, had made five sorties since it had arrived there at around 10:30 AM on Tuesday, and had returned for the sixth trip. “For some reason or the other, it did not take the last batch of nine civilians, and took off at around 3:30 with just one policeman who deployed to help the crew, to be soon reported missing,” Pertin told The Indian Express over the telephone from Sagalee.
It was only around 3 PM that Arunachal Pradesh chief minister Pema Khandu had said in a tweet that 169 persons had been evacuated from Sagalee and Dambuk by the Indian Air Force during the day till then. “Successfully evacuated 169 stranded people that include women, children from flood affected areas of Sagalee and Dambuk through IAF,” Khandu had said in a tweet at PM. While Sagalee is in Papum Pare district just north of Itanagar, Dambuk in Lower Dibang Valley is about 350 km east of the state capital.
Sagalee ADC Pertin said while the road distance between Itanagar and Sagalee is about 90 km, the flight time by a helicopter is just about 15 to 20 minutes. “Most of the civilians who were evacuated from Sagalee were from East Kameng district and they were stranded in Sagalee because the road link to Seppa (East Kameng HQ) has been snapped due to flood and landslides,” Pertin said. While landslides and floods have cut off roads since Friday, a Pawan Hans chopper had also evacuated about 60 persons from Sagalee on Sunday, he informed.
Search operations for locating the missing IAF chopper could not be launched because of inclement weather. Operations would however be launched early Wednesday morning, an official said.
Meanwhile, a BSF chopper with union minister Kiren Rijiju on board had to make an emergency landing near Itanagar on Tuesday afternoon due to bad weather when it was on its way from Gwuahati to Ziro in Lower Subansiri district. The Mi-17 helicopter with Rijiju and seven other passengers and crew members on board landed in an open field near Itanagar, because of heavy rains and thick fog, with a PIB Home Affairs tweet hailed the experienced BSF pilots for making a safe landing.