A Short Messaging Service sent to one of the four mobile phones carried by the passengers of the helicopter that flew Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy led the search team to zero in on the area of the crash site.

“The SMS enabled those planning the search to zero in on the area to a four-km radius that finally resulted in the helicopters spotting the wreckage,” official sources said here.

The SMS was received at 12. 06 p.m., nearly 90-odd minutes after the ATC lost contact with the helicopter flying the official team to Chittoor. This input, the sources said, meant the mobile phone was in an area where it could get some signal. And this helped in narrowing down the search area.

The mobile service provider furnished the details of the SMS received by one of the four mobiles to those coordinating the search. The mobile which received the SMS presumably belongs to the security officer. Since the SMS was delivered through a tower, the coordinates were mapped on the basis of this input as well as data that the fighter aircraft and other IAF helicopters collected, the sources said.

The novel approach was adopted after the daylong search by IAF helicopters did not yield any result, forcing the IAF to deploy three Su-30 MKI aircraft, in two separate missions, to map the vast area.

The sources said the IAF headquarters received a request for help around 1.15 p.m. on September 2. Within 15-20 minutes, two Chetak helicopters from the helicopter training base at Hakimpet started conducting sorties. Their effort was supplemented by another Mi-8 transport helicopter, which took off from Yelahanka, near Bangalore, to carry out a search based on the inputs given by the State government and the police.

At 4.30 p.m., the IAF launched a Dornier aircraft from Yelahanka, which flew to Kadapa, through Srisailam and Chittoor, before returning to the base. Thirty minutes later, the IAF launched transport aircraft Avro from Hyderabad. The IAF opened an operation centre at Kurnool by 6.20 p.m., and by 6.45 p.m., it decided to press the fighter planes equipped with Synthetic Aperture Radar to map the area. Two Su-30 MKI flew from Bareilly at 8.10 p.m. and returned to their base 10 minutes past midnight. The Il-78 transport refuel tanker was flown from Agra to back up the operation. At 2.15 a.m. on Thursday, the IAF launched its third Su-30 MKI, with another Il-78.

As the IAF did not have radar data, which it uses to locate wreckage of its planes, it decided to innovate. Based on the last contact the helicopter made with the ATC in Shamshabad and Chennai, it decided to search from the last point. The area was mapped, and the SMS helped in the process.

Two Chetak helicopters left for the area at 6.20 a.m. and at 8.28 a.m. spotted the wreckage. At 9.20 a.m., another Mi8 roped down two police commandos, and another three commandos slid down from an Advanced Light Helicopter. With the help of IAF personnel, the bodies were winched up to the helicopters.