The Indian Air Force (IAF) had to call off its search and rescue operations for Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy’s Bell helicopter late on Wednesday evening as fading light forced the IAF’s four helicopters to turn back.

The rescue operations, which are being spearheaded by the IAF’s Training Command (TC) headquartered in Bangalore, will, however, be resumed at daybreak on Thursday. The IAF has also decided to set up a control centre at Kurnool to coordinate the operations. The control centre has been necessitated because of the number of civil and military helicopters now involved in the search.

Rather curiously the IAF was informed about the missing helicopter only well past noon, a good three hours after it lost contact with Air Traffic Control, Chennai.

Once the call came, the TC-IAF swung into action, using two Chetak helicopters from the Air Force Station (AFS), Hakimpet (which is close to Hyderabad). The pilots launched their search from where the helicopter made its last radio contact. The area was charted out and the most probable location searched in a “hit and pry” method.

But bad weather forced the Chetak pilots to turn back to the AFS, Hakimpet, at 1.30 p.m. At 2 p.m. the IAF pressed into service a Russian-built Mi-8 and an Advanced Light Helicopter from Bangalore for the search operations.

Besides the bad weather and low clouds the pilots also had to contend with hilly terrain, with the ridge line in some areas going up to 2,800 feet.

Explaining the operations to TheHindu, Air Marshal V.R. Iyer, Air Officer Commanding-in-Chief, Training Command, IAF, said the pilots had to maintain a safety margin because of the hilly terrain and could not go down too low. Air Marshal Iyer refused to speculate on what could have happened to the Chief Minister’s helicopter. He, however, said that the chances of bad weather alone forcing the helicopter to land were rather slim.

“The pilot would have been aware of the weather conditions and could have turned back once he realised that the weather was turning bad. The aids on board the helicopter would have given the pilot ample indication of the weather that they were approaching and he could have circumvented the weather,” he explained.

According to senior helicopter pilots, the two most probable outcomes could be: the helicopter could have gone out of control because of bad weather and crashed or could have force landed/crashed after suffering a mechanical failure.

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