Death was possibly instantaneous for Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy and four others, when their helicopter crashed into Pavurala Gutta, a steep hillock between Atmakur and Rollapenta villages of Kurnool district.

The chopper, which had veered 18 km off the set flight path possibly due to low visibility conditions, crashed into the hillock and burst into flames. “There was a black [burnt] patch spread over nearly 25 to 30 sq m, indicating that the chopper had exploded on impact,” said an officer who monitored the search operations from here.

The helicopter was carrying enough fuel to fly for two more hours. When it took off from Begumpet airport in normal weather conditions on Wednesday morning, the Bell-430 had fuel adequate for three hours of ‘endurance’. The flight time to reach the destination, Anuppalle village in Chittoor district, was two hours and 20 minutes. It flew for nearly one hour. .

The search operations resumed by Thursday morning. The IAF choppers pinpointed the ‘latlong’ coordinates of the crash site by about 8 a.m. The information was communicated to the base station set up in Kurnool, which in turn alerted the Greyhounds control centre here. Within minutes another IAF chopper scrambled from Kurnool with Greyhounds commandos. By then the control here had alerted the commando units which were scouring the core area to reach the crash site.

There were nearly 20 units (each with 30 members) moving on either side of the Atmakur-Rollapenta road stretch at the northern tip of Kurnool district. Geographically, the borders of Prakasam district begin after Rollapenta on the southern side. Further north is Srisailam, which houses the holy Saivite temple. After this point starts Mahabubnagar district on the north. Down south, the Nandyal Reserve Forest area begins after about 6 km of plain terrain.

Informed sources said there were eight commando units on the northern side while eight were on the southern side of the Atmakur-Rollapenta road stretch. The other four units were at a distance of 7 km from the crash site. These four units were given the ‘grid reference’ and told to move to the site with the aid of GPS handheld devices. The terrain was extremely difficult, but identifying the target area was easier as IAF choppers were hovering over the crash site.