Coonoor tragedy brings back memories of a crash in Sakleshpur

A local resident had helped the forces recover remains of the chopper

December 09, 2021 11:59 pm | Updated 11:59 pm IST - Hassan

The tragic chopper crash at Coonoor in Tamil Nadu, in which Chief of Defence Staff General Bipin Rawat and 12 others were killed, has brought back to the residents of Sakleshpur memories of a 30-year-old accident involving an aircraft of the Indian Navy. It was eventually a local resident who had helped the forces in tracing the remains of the chopper in the thick jungles.

The aircraft, on a sortie from Mangaluru to Bengaluru, had crashed in the thick forests of the Western Ghats at Aramane Gudda in Sakleshpur taluk in 1991. Given the risky terrain, people from the armed forces could not locate the remains of the chopper even after weeks of search.

Kishor Kumar of Hongdahalla told The Hindu that he was in high school when the incident happened. “There was a heavy movement of trucks carrying personnel to search for the remains of the chopper. A few helicopters flew in the place at low altitudes as part of the search operation. Despite their efforts, the armed personnel could not trace the chopper in the forests,” he said.

Subhash Maidan, the playground in Sakleshpur, was turned into a helipad during the search operation, recalled Girish Nandan, a KAS officer and native of Sakleshpur taluk. He was then studying PUC.

Local man’s role

Finally, Puttasome Gowda, a resident of Vanagur, accidentally found some parts of the aircraft and informed the officers.

Atul Kumar Tiwari, senior IAS officer who was Assistant Commissioner at the beginning of his career in 1992, in a Facebook post in 2017, narrated the trekking expedition he took along with other officers to reach the spot. “Mr. Gowda went hunting for wild boars in the hills and found something shining (chopper blades) on a steep cliff,” he recalled.

Based on Mr. Gowda’s information, the officers’ team trekked in Aramane Gudda, amid thick grass, for two days in October 1992. “We needed ropes to go down and fetch the black box,” the officer wrote in the post. He had also recommended an award for Mr. Gowda. A senior officer of the Indian Navy travelled from Panaji to Sakleshpur and handed over a cheque for ₹10,000 to Mr. Gowda, recognising his role in tracing the remains of the chopper.

Petition for land

Mr. Gowda and his family members claim that the Union Government had assured the family a grant of four acres of land, following the incident. Till recently, Mr. Gowda met many officers with the petitions for a grant of land. Mr. Nandan, who worked as Assistant Commissioner of Sakleshpur earlier, told The Hindu that Mr. Gowda had met him with the request for land. “I had directed Sakleshpur tahsildar to look into his petition,” he said. Mr. Gowda now stays at Palya in Alur taluk.

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