S. Nagesh Kumar

His seat was a specially-fitted swivel chair on the left hand side of the helicopter

HYDERABAD: No one knows what state of mind Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy and the other four were in when their Bell 430 helicopter went down in the Nallamala hills last week.

Data gleaned from the cockpit voice recorder (CVR) or black box, partly damaged, may perhaps reveal whether the chopper crashed without warning or the pilots and passengers were aware of the impending tragedy.

Theories were abounding that the pilots had sent SOS to the Air Traffic Controllers until the government scotched them clarifying that the black box had not been decoded.

In tune with his relaxed demeanour, Dr. Reddy dozes off at the commencement of any long journey by car or helicopter, his close aide K.V.P. Ramachandra Rao has said.

A revisit of this correspondent’s journey with YSR in the same Bell 430 helicopter to Sirpur in Adilabad district last summer bears this out.

The helicopter has seating for eight in the following configuration – two (pilot and co-pilot), two (including one for the Chief Minister), one and three.

YSR’s seat is a specially-fitted swivel chair on the left hand side of the helicopter beside which (though not attached) is another seat. One seat behind him is used by the Chief Security Officer.

With YSR were this correspondent, his CSO Ramesh Kumar, and two other officials seated at the back. Unlike in many helicopters, passengers in this government chopper are not provided big ear mufflers for protection against the thudding-whirring sound of the engine and rotor blades.

As soon as the helicopter took off, the CSO handed YSR tiny ear plugs and three newspapers. After speaking for a while in the din, YSR plugged his ears, immersed himself in the newspapers and later snoozed. The ride was shaky -- caused by heavy vibration. YSR barely noticed what looked like a bird hit (a sharp cracking sound followed by spattering of the windshield) that rattled everyone else.

It was not until the helicopter hovered over Sirpur did YSR open his eyes to point out some landmarks on the ground. He then wiped his face with wet fresheners and was ready for the gruelling programme ahead.

Figures furnished by the Chief Minister’s Office show that between May 2004 when he first assumed office till March 2, 2009, YSR toured the districts 726 times, mostly by helicopter. An inveterate traveller like him could hardly be expected to admire the scenery every time he flew.

He had criss-crossed the State so many times by road and air that he knew the layout of the land quite well. It was not surprising that when his pilot landed in Adilabad instead of Utnoor in 2005, YSR guided him by advising him to fly above NH-7 connecting the two places, 55 km apart.

Wrong coordinates

As the recent tragedy shows, no lessons were learnt from this safety lapse caused by feeding wrong coordinates to the global positioning system (GPS) on the helicopter.