OTHERS

IAF probe team visits crash site

NEW DELHI, NOV. 15. The operation to recover the MI-8 helicopter which crashed mysteriously in marshy land in the Rann of Kutch on Sunday killing seven people, did not begin today as the Air Force Court of Inquiry team was yet to complete the task of collecting evidence from the wreckage site.

An IAF spokesman here said the team wanted to be sure that it had collected all evidence like the angle and point of impact before the operation to recover the wreckage from the waterlogged area began.

It is only after the wreckage is pulled out would it be possible to pinpoint the cause of the crash. There was speculation that the chopper, which was within Indian territory but near the border, could have been shot down. Yesterday, the bodies of seven BSF and IAF personnel who had died in the crash, were extricated and a post-mortem was carried out. Five people including the co- pilot survived.

The recovery operation would take time as the marsh was three to five feet deep and kept changing with the tide. If necessary, the wreckage might even have to be pulled out piece by piece.

Senior officers of the South Western Air Command, headquartered at Gandhinagar, were supervising the recovery operation.

The helicopter, on BSF duty, took off from Koteshwar at around 1245 hrs on Sunday and was expected to land at the Naliya air base about three hours later. It never came back and only after a nearly 24 hour search was it located 90 km north of the air base. Information gathered from the survivors led to strong suspicion that there was more to the crash, especially since the co-pilot, Flying Officer Manish Kumar, said the helicopter was in good mechanical condition.

The chopper had came down to a height of 50 metres to inspect four suspicious-looking boats in the area and then crashed. The theory that the chopper could have been attacked was substantiated by the fact that the suspicious boats stayed in the waters for five to six hours but did not come to the rescue of the MI-8 after it crashed.

- UNI