Six Vaishno Devi pilgrims and a woman pilot were on Monday killed when the helicopter they were in crashed at the new bus stand ground in Jammu’s Katra town.
The victims included a newly married couple, identified as Arjun Singh Chib, 25, and his wife Vandana, 22, both residents of Gho Manasa near Jammu, their nephew Maheshawar Singh, 19, Sachin Solanki, 32, and his daughter Akshita, 6, from Rohini in Delhi. The sixth deceased was identified as Aryanjeet Singh, 52, of Trikuta Nagar, Jammu, and pilot Sunita Vijayn of Hyderabad.
Udhampur-Reasi range Deputy Inspector General of Police Surinder Gupta said the helicopter was on way from Katra to Sanji Chhat, which falls en route to the Vaishno Devi shrine in Trikuta Hills. He said the crash took place at 1.03 pm but the police are still ascertaining what led to the accident.
Sources, however, said the chopper had hit a bird while gaining height, making the pilot to crash-land in an open ground. However, in the process, the chopper’s router got entangled with a high tension wire, causing fire. Helicopter sorties between Katra and Sanji Chhat were suspended immediately after the crash but the pilgrimage to Vaishno Devi shrine on foot and on ponies continued as usual.
Senior officers from the Shrine Board, local police and civil administration rushed to the accident spot, from where the charred bodies of the victims were being taken to hospital. The victims were identified from their personal belongings, including mobile phones and clothes.
J&K Deputy Chief Minister Dr Nirmal Singh also visited the crash site and later held a high-level meeting with the Shrine Board, civil administration and the police. PDP president and Lok Sabha member Mehbooba Mufti expressed concern over the loss of human lives and asked the helicopter operators to strictly adhere to the safety norms.
Governor N N Vohra and Chief Minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed have also expressed grief over the death of the pilgrims.
Vohra, who is also chairman of the Vaishno Devi Shrine Board, announced an ex-gratia of Rs 3 lakh each to the next of kin of those killed, besides taking up the matter with Director General Civil Aviation (DGCA) for immediate enquiry.
Contact details of the Vaishno Devi board are: +91-1991-232367, 232238, 234053, 232029
Pointing out that the crash took place at 1.03 pm, DIG for Udhampur-Reasi ranger, Surinder Gupta said that the victims were on way to the holy shrine for darshan.
After taking off from the helipad near Katra town, as the chopper gained altitude towards Sanjichat, it suddenly fell down on the ground behind Central office of the Vaishno Devi Shrine Board.
The cause of crash is being ascertained, he said.