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State funeral for Rajasekhara Reddy on Friday

By Sheela Bhatt in New Delhi/Mohammed Siddique in Hyderabad/Vicky Nanjappa in Bengaluru
Last updated on: September 03, 2009 19:21 IST
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Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Y S Rajasekhara Reddy was killed when his helicopter crashed on top of a hillock in the dense Nallamalla forest.

The chopper was found nearly 24 hours after Reddy went missing.

Reddy, who was traveling with his Principal Secretary P Subramanyam and Chief Security Officer A S C John Wesley and pilots Group Captain SK Bhatia and Captain MS Reddy in the twin-engined government helicopter, had taken off from old Begumpet Airport at 8.35 am on Wednesday to Chittor district.

The four other passengers on board the helicopter have also been killed.

The helicopter carrying Reddy from Hyderabad to Chittoor on Wednesday deviated 18 km from its path towards east, near Rudrakoduru in the Nallamala forest range in Kurnool district, before it hit a cliff and crashed.

"The chopper hit the cliff, crashed and exploded. All the five persons in the ill-fated helicopter were burnt to death," state Finance Minister K Rosaiah and Chief Secretary P Ramakanth Reddy said in Hyderabad on Thursday.

Hailing him as a tall leader who brought tremendous development to Andhra Pradesh, the Union Cabinet condoled Reddy and announced a state funeral for him.

The chopper might have drifted from its path because of a large cloud formation due to inclement weather and ended up hitting the cliff, they said. Except the tail portion, the body of the Bell-430 helicoper of AP Aviation Corporation was reduced to bits and pieces in the mishap.

The helicopter crashed 10 km away from Rudrakoduru on a hostile terrain and army commandos had to slither down with the help of a rope from a rescue helicopter, they said.

"Initially, three bodies were traced and then the fourth one. It took a while to locate the fifth body. We have identified the bodies from the dresses," Director General of Police S S P Yadav said.

The highly-charred and decomposed bodies of Reddy and four others were shifted to an Indian Air Force helicopter a short while ago and the chopper has lifted off from the Kurnool air base for its onward journey to Hyderabad.

"The national flag will fly at half mast in Andhra Pradesh on Thursday and Friday and all Central and state government offices in the state will remain closed on Friday," Information and Broadcasting Minister Ambika Soni told media persons after the cabinet meeting.

The Cabinet meeting, chaired by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, adopted a resolution highlighting various welfare schemes implemented by him during his first tenure as Chief Minister.

"He gave a new thrust to the women's self-help group movement and made Andhra Pradesh the leading state in enrolment and empowerment of women," it said.

Describing Reddy, a qualified doctor, as a "natural reformer and moderniser", the resolution said the overwhelming support of the poor and the middle classes as well as those belonging to SC, ST and OBC people, ensured his victory in the assembly elections held in May this year, and enabled him a second term in office as chief minister.

"Reddy has passed away in tragic circumstances. He was at the peak of his political career and popularity when the hand of fate intervened. In his death, the country as lost an eminent political leader, an astute administrator and above all a friend of the poor and downtrodden," it said, adding that the Cabinet has placed on record its deep sense of grief and loss and extended its condolences to his family.

The chief minister's body will be kept at the Lal Bahadur Shastri Stadium from Friday morning till about 1 pm to allow the general public and the political leadership to pay their last respects.

It will then be flown to his native village in Cuddapah district for final rites.

The wreckage has been located between Rollapenta and Rudra Koderu in Kurnool district.

The Indian Air Force had sent five choppers to the area, while some IAF personnel were reportedly airdropped on the hillock to reach the helicopter.

A top-level security source in New Delhi told that one of the IAF choppers, which had located the missing helicopter, had informed the authorities that "the chopper was in a very bad condition. Only the wreckage can be seen. There is no human movement around the chopper".

As the news of YSR's death reached Hyderabad, scenes of mourning were witnessed across the city. Hundreds gathered near his residence in Hyderabad and the state secretariat. 

On Wednesday, soon after the CM's chopper lost contact, multiple agencies of the state had launched a massive hunt to locate  possible wreckage in the desolate terrain. By evening, it had expanded into the country's biggest-ever search operation with satellites in the sky joining remote sensing aircraft, fighter jets, unmanned aerial vehicles, troops on the ground and even barefoot deer-hunting tribals with bows and arrows.

Image: Thousands of people, from all walks of life, came out on the streets of Hyderabad to mourn and pay their last respects to YSR

Reportage: Sheela Bhatt in New Delhi/Mohammed Siddique in Hyderabad/Vicky Nanjappa in Bengaluru
Photograph: SnapsIndia

Additional inputs: PTI/ANI

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Sheela Bhatt in New Delhi/Mohammed Siddique in Hyderabad/Vicky Nanjappa in Bengaluru