After nearly-day-long helicopter-borne search operations on Wednesday to locate Chief Minister Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy and his co-passengers, police and Central paramilitary forces continued their search operations on foot late on Wednesday trying to reach the point where the missing chopper was thought to be last seen.
The Indian Air Force (IAF) launched its state-of-the-art Sukhoi-MK 30 fighter jet from its Bareilly air base to scan the area. According to official sources, the IAF’s mission was on a par with the missions to locate its missing aircraft.
One official IAF source said: “The IAF is following the drill of scrutinising inputs from radar and using the synthetic aperture radar method in a bid to locate the missing chopper. With the help of radar images, we can sweep the area.” The mission would go on through the night.
The IAF has pressed into service an Il-78 aircraft with air-to-air refuelling capability to support the Su-MK-30 in its search operations. An operations control room has been set up at Kurnool by the IAF. Earlier, four IAF helicopters joined the search operations over the thickly forested Nallamalla area.
As news came of Mr. Rajasekhara Reddy being untraceable, Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram personally started monitoring the search operations from the North Block headquarters of his Ministry. The Home Minister, who returned here after an early morning visit to Chandigarh, cancelled his appointments for the day and remained in touch with officials in Delhi and Hyderabad.
“There is no good news yet. We’re keeping our fingers crossed. Our prayers are with Rajasekhara Reddy and his family,” he told reporters in the evening, more than nine hours after the helicopter had lost contact with Air Traffic Control (ATC).
Mr. Chidambaram said the search on foot by forest and revenue officials was on around the point where they think the helicopter was last seen. Police and Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) personnel were moving on foot. “I have advised the State government to continue the search even during the night with whatever light can be provided,” a grim-looking Minister told reporters. He said search operations would be intensified at the crack of dawn on Thursday.
Later, Mr. Chidambaram drove to the Race Course Road residence of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and briefed him about the search operations. The Home Ministry rushed five companies of CRPF personnel to the area from Chhattisgarh and Orissa.
Shockingly, according to Minister of State for Defence M.M. Pallam Raju, the helicopter’s Emergency Locator Transmitter (ELT) was not working. Had it been working, it would have emitted high-frequency signals in the event of a crash. “These signals,” one aviation expert pointed out, “can be picked up by search helicopters as far away as 100 to 200 km and the location of the chopper or aircraft in case of a crash can be found.”