By Arun Pratap Singh
Rudraprayag, 18 Oct: Seven people, including the pilot of a helicopter operating in Kedarnath, were killed when the helicopter crashed today near Garudchatti in Kedarnath Valley. The tragedy occurred at 11:40 a.m. this morning. The chopper carrying 6 passengers took off from Kedarnath shrine and crashed right after take-off. The bodies of the six pilgrims and the pilot have been recovered from the site.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Chief Minister Pushkar Singh Dhami and Union Civil Aviation Minister Jyotiraditya Scindia have condoled the deaths in the chopper accident.
Though the preliminary inquiry suggests that bad weather and poor light could be the reason behind the crash, a magisterial inquiry has been ordered into the accident, informed the CEO of Uttarakhand Civil Aviation Development Authority (UCADA) C Ravishankar at a media briefing at the Secretariat here this afternoon. He added that the exact cause of the accident could only be determined after a thorough investigation.
According to the witnesses, a loud bang was heard before the chopper caught fire. The chopper was operated by Aryan Aviation of Delhi, which has been operating services in Uttarakhand over the past few years. The helicopter was stated to be a Bell 407 VT-RPN. Aryan Aviation has been operating chopper services between Guptkashi and Kedarnath.
According to Uttarakhand Police, the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF), State Disaster Response Force (SDRF) and the district police reached the spot after the crash and carried out a joint search and rescue operation. The bodies of all the victims were recovered.
Those who lost their lives in the accident were Captain Anil Singh, aged 57, who was the pilot of the chopper and a resident of Mumbai; Poorva Ramanuj, aged 26 and resident of Gujarat; Kruti Barad, aged 30, and Urvi Barad aged 25, also residents of Gujarat; and Sujata aged 56; Prem Kumar aged 63; and Kala aged 60, all residents of Tamil Nadu.
The District Magistrate and SP, Rudraprayag, also reached the spot to oversee the rescue operations.
The incident of helicopter crash in Kedarnath created panic among the people present there. Eyewitnesses say that the weather was clear in Kedarnath in the morning. It was sunny, but at 11 a.m., it suddenly started raining and there was fog all around. The fog was so thick that visibility was not even a hundred metres. Soon after the chopper took off, three loud bangs one after the other were heard by the people present in Kedarnath and this was followed by a plume of smoke and fire.
It may be recalled that time and again questions have been raised regarding violation of SOPs and norms regarding operation of Heli services for Char Dham shrines, especially regarding their operations during the monsoons and post monsoon period, as the clouds often fill the valley after the monsoons and it becomes risky to operate choppers. Not only this, choppers in such heights should not be operating at full capacity according to some experts who claim that, in Kedarnath, the maximum number of passengers allowed in a chopper should be five including the pilot. There have also been complaints that the choppers operate at low height deliberately in violation of the SOPs to cut the fuel costs and the DGCA and UCADA just choose to look away. Why seven persons were allowed in the chopper including the pilot is a factor that needs to be inquired into, besides ensuring strict implementation of SOPs in this regard.
Dehradun, 18 Oct: Additional Secretary and Chief Executive Officer of Civil Aviation, C Ravi Shankar informed the media that 7 people including the pilot had died in a helicopter crash of Aryan Aviation Helicopter Company going from Kedarnath to Guptkashi today. The dead included pilot Captain Anil (resident of Mumbai). The Chief Executive Officer of Civil Aviation said that full details of the cause of the accident would be known only after investigation. An inquiry had been set up at the district level. Rescue and recovery operation were conducted at the spot by SDRF and police team.
Director General of Information Banshidhar Tiwari was also present on the occasion.