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How YSR's chopper wreckage was spotted

By Krishnakumar P
Last updated on: September 04, 2009 00:34 IST
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At 8:30 on Thursday morning, an Indian Air Force helicopter, that had been up in the air for less than one hour, spotted the wreckages of the chopper that went missing a day ago. Within two hours of that, the bodies of all the five people who were on board were found.

We explain how a combination of agencies -- defence, paramilitary and police -- searched for and finally zeroed in on the missing chopper.

Late on Wednesday night, the search teams had narrowed down on the most probable places where the helicopter could have gone missing. "This was done by a combination of last radio contact and cell phone signals. Between 9:20 and 9:30 in the morning, three cell phone towers had picked up signals and then there was one more at 12.06 pm. Using these four coordinates, we had narrowed down on the field to an area of 5x5 kilometres and we gave this input to the IAF," a senior officer part of the search effort told

Armed with this detail and the flight path of the chopper, the Air Force swung into action. "Although we had inputs from the local administration and the police, we decided from the beginning that we would take up the search as we would have done if one of our choppers had gone missing," Wing Commander Tarun Kumar Singha said.

After a first Sukhoi-30 returned, a second one was sent from Bareili at 2.15 am on Thursday. It was also accompanied by an IL-78, a four-engined aerial refueling tanker.

"The mobile signals were useful. Even if you go out of network, the tower registers a signal. Thus we decided to concentrate on an area of 4 sq kilometers based on these inputs. The Su-30, which was not going to be affected by the weather or rain was sending images from the synthetic aperture radar. After that these images were analysed, it was decided to look for the chopper in the morning," Singha said.

The images were useful as the search party was able to narrow down the scope even further. Explaining how this worked, Singha said, "The radar will scan the earth. It would give a different resolution for different material. And especially in an area which is mostly foliage, metallic things stand out," he said.

At the first light of Thursday morning, seven choppers were waiting to resume the search. "It was planned to send batches of two helicopters each. When the first two returned, the second set would be sent up. That was the idea. But the first helicopter that left at 7:30 in the morning, spotted the wreckage within an hour," the senior Andhra Pradesh officer said.

"As soon as we got word that the wreckage was spotted, we sent one more Mi-8 (a twin-turbine transport helicopter) with security forces, and an Advanced Light Helicopter with three policemen followed. Since the terrain was inhospitable, we decided that the men will slither down and reach the wreckage," Wing Commander Singha said.

Meanwhile, the AP police search parties, which were 10 kilometres away were also asked to rush to the spot. "The spot was at a very steep incline. Nevertheless, the ground troops took whatever transport they could get and rushed there. The IAF was also slithering down men from the choppers. Unlike yesterday when it was raining heavily, today there was no rain and the skies were clear. This also helped us speed up the process," the officer said.

"Forces that slithered down soon identified 4 bodies by 9:30," Singha said. "Even the dead-bodies had to be winched from the helicopter," he added. And when the fifth body was found at 10.45, the search came to an end.

Unfortunately, at the end of the day, there was nothing more that India's most sophisticated aircraft and 2000 ground forces could do.

"Like I said, we treated the operation as we would when one of our own choppers go missing. We did all we could," Singha said.

And the senior AP police officer concluded, "He was our Chief Minister. We did all we could do."

Graphic: KBK

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