A Pawan Hans helicopter chartered by Arunachal Pradesh Chief Minister Dorjee Khandu to fly from Tawang to Itanagar went missing on Saturday morning, and its status was not known till late in the night.
Radio contact with the helicopter was lost shortly after it passed over the Sela Pass in West Kameng district, located at an altitude of 13,700 feet. No contact was established with anyone on board since then.
The helicopter, which took off from the Tawang helipad at 9.56 a.m., was scheduled to land at the Itanangar Rajbhawan helipad at 11.30 a.m. Besides Mr. Khandu, the pilot and the co-pilot, Mr. Khandu's personal security officer, Y. Chohddak, and a woman relative of the Chief Minister were on board the five-seat helicopter.
Principal Adviser to the Chief Minister Tsering Gyurme told The Hindu that no contact could be established with anyone on board Mr. Khandu's helicopter, so the State government was not in a position to confirm anything.
“We are all praying for the safety of the Chief Minister and all others on board. Search and rescue missions are on to trace the helicopter and establish contact,” he said on phone at 6.10 p.m.
A Pawan Hans official at the Lokapriya Gopinath Bardoloi International Airport here also said no contact could be established with the helicopter. There were, however, conflicting reports about the whereabouts of the helicopter and the safety of Mr. Khandu and others.
Home Minister Tako Dabi said in the afternoon that the government received information that the helicopter landed somewhere near the India-Bhutan border, and that another helicopter was rushed to Guwahati to bring the Chief Minister.
“We have got the information that the Chief Minister has landed safely and will fly back to Guwahati. Another helicopter has been sent from here to bring the Chief Minister and others back to Itanagar,” Mr. Dabi said on the phone from Itanagar at 4.15 p.m.
The assistance of the Army and the Indian Air Force was sought, and two Cheetah helicopters were deployed on a search and rescue mission. However, inclement weather disrupted the operation, which is expected to resume on Sunday morning. The State government and the Army have also deployed ground search parties and appealed to the villagers along the helicopter's route for help.
This incident comes 12 days after a Pawan Hans helicopter crashed in Tawang killing 17 persons on board. On November 19 last year, an Indian Air Force Mi-17 helicopter crashed at Bomdir near Tawang, killing all 12 defence personnel on board. The victims comprised an army officer and 11 IAF personnel.
On August 6, 2010, a crew member died after he fell down when the door of a Pawan Hans helicopter suddenly opened midair shortly after it took off from Namsai in Lohit district of Arunachal Pradesh.