Missing Arunachal CM: Chidambaram fears worst

New Delhi: Government on Wednesday indicated that Arunachal Pradesh Chief Minister Dorjee Khandu and four others may not have survived the crash of the helicopter in which they were travelling on Saturday.

"From whatever I can piece together the information from the information given by the villagers and assuming it to be true, I am afraid the news is grim and sad," Home Minister P Chidambaram told reporters here in his second update on the search operations.

Giving details, he said some villagers had reportedly reached the site of the crash of a helicopter and communicated to the control room in Itanagar that they had identified two bodies while three were charred beyond recognition.

"These are interrupted communications by villagers who have reached the site. But no official of the government, army or police has been able to reach there," he said.

"It may take several hours for any of these officials to reach the spot because it is about five kilometres from Kyela," Chidambaram said.

He said a Cheetah helicopter, which flew over the site, has been able to locate the debris of a crashed helicopter and some bodies lying there.

"We are trying to land another Cheetah from Lubothang," the Home Minister said, adding a team of the government to reach the accident site which is about 5 kms from Kyela.

Union Minister for Development of North Eastern region B K Handique said in Itanagar that a relative and panchayat leader of Khandu`s Assembly constituency has identified his body.

He told reporters that the panchayat leader Thupten has identified the body of 56-year-old Dorjee while the other four bodies have been charred beyond recognition.

The minister, however, said that only after the divisional commissioner takes charge of the body and the formalities are completed, they could officially confirm news about Dorjee.

Handique said that the body would be sent to Khandu`s home village in Tawang, "but the final rites will be observed simultaneously at Tawang and Itanagar with state honours."

If transporting the body by chopper was delayed, it would be sent by road from Tawang, around 500 km from here, he added.

Khandu`s family members had rushed to Tawang immediately after the chopper went missing.

Earlier in the day, Chidambaram said the information from the search teams was "not encouraging and not good news".

He said the search parties had "sighted three bodies.

This sighting has been made from a height. They have not been able to go down to the place where the aircraft is crashed.

The message has been given to the nearest Army post which is sending a team."

Chidambaram had said that an Army team has been dispatched on foot to the crash site and "we will know more about the crash site and the bodies lying there once they reach there".

The place is located at a height of 4900 metres and, therefore, it will take some time and difficulty to reach there, he said.

"When they reach there, they will communicate to us what they have found there," he said, adding he was unable to state as to what type of aircraft or whose bodies they were.

"But I am afraid it is on the flight path of the chopper after it had taken off from Tawang. We are keeping our fingers crossed and let us wait for the official word to come from the team," he said.

The single engine four-seater Pawan Hans helicopter with Khandu and four others on board went missing soon after taking off from Tawang on Saturday.

Besides Khandu, others on board were pilots Captain J S Babbar, Captain T S Mamik, Khandu?s security officer Yeshi Choddak and Yeshi Lhamu, sister of Tawang MLA Tsewang Dhondup.

Inclement weather had prevented teams from carrying out aerial searches.

Honouring the wishes of the people, Khandu?s body would be brought here and kept at his bungalow for the people to pay their last last respects, Handique said.

Asked about the successor to Dorjee, he said, "Everything will be taken care of."

Union ministers V Narayansamy and Mukul Wasnik who were monitoring the situation here, left for New Delhi this morning.

A pall of gloom descended on the state capital with thousands thronging Khandu?s official bungalow at Niti Vihar here. MLAs, officials and local leaders were among those in grief.

A group of youth enraged over the news ransacked the local Pawan Hans office. The glass panes of the director?s chamber and booking counter were damaged in the attack, police sources said.

"Never before has Arunachal witnessed such massive development the way Khandu did after taking over the reins on April 9, 2007," Power Minister Jarbom Gamlin who is also state government spokesman said while recalling his last meeting with Khandu on April 24.

His views were echoed by RWD Minister Kalikho Pul.

Home Minister Tako Dabi said "Let God bless the people of Arunachal, particularly family members to bear the irreparable loss.