Itanagar/Shillong: At least 17 people including three crew members were killed on Tuesday after a Mi17 helicopter of Pawan Hans crashed while landing in the mountainous region of Tawang in Arunachal Pradesh. However, pilot of the chopper and five others on board miraculously survived with serious burn injuries.

The Tawang district administration has declared a holiday on Wednesday to condole the deaths.

This is the second helicopter crash in Tawang district bordering China. An Indian Air Force (IAF) MI 17 chopper crashed minutes after its take-off on November 19 last year killing all 12 on board.

Seventeen persons were killed while two crew members including the Pilot Captain Varun Gupta and four passengers survived with grievous injuries, Tawang Deputy Commissioner Gamlin Padu said. The injured were rushed to the civil hospital at Tawang and would be air-lifted to Guwahati on Wednesday, he said.

Pawan Hans sources said the chopper caught fire, broke into pieces and ultimately crashed into a gorge close to the Tawang Civil helipad at around 1357 hours. The helicopter had taken off at 1245 hours, they said.

The civilian Mi17 chopper of state-owned Pawan Hans, manufactured in 1996, was on a regular flight to Tawang from the Lokopriya Gopinath Bordoloi International Airport in Guwahati, Pawan Hans sources said. It had valid certificate of airworthiness till August 28 this year.

Cause yet to be ascertained

The exact cause was yet to be ascertained though a technical snag could not be ruled out, the sources said.

An official in the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) said that as per initial reports the chopper crash-landed "due to likely wind shear and down draft while landing and caught fire on impact to the ground".

The official said in New Delhi that a committee would be set up to probe the accident and a high-level team of DGCA officers led by Director General E K Bharat Bhushan will visit the accident site on Wednesday.

Colonel among others dead


An official statement said that the MI-17 helicopter (VT-PHF) of Pawan Hans Helicopters Ltd was carrying 18 passengers, including two minors, and five crew members from Guwahati to Tawang.

A perusal of the passenger manifest showed that a Colonel-level officer and three women were among the dead. A man, woman, two minors--a boy and a girl-- had Asif as the surname and the four persons could be from one family.

Those killed were identified as Mrs Anita, A Baruah, Dr Tendon, Dr Asif, Mrs R Asif, Mrs Jahara, Ms Asif, Master Asif, Mr A Sharma, A K Saraugi, Ms N Botha, Col Sharma, Mr W Bhatia, Mr T Mustafa.

The three crew members killed were a second pilot Captain Tiwari, Flight Attendant A Dixit and Assistant Maintenance Engineer S B Kulkarni.

Besides Captain Varun Gupta, the other survivors were Randiv Kumar Chaturvedi, Dorjee Wangdi, Rishi Bothra, Rajendra Pal and Mrs Karishma Saraugi.

Pawan Hans Helicopters operates daily chopper services between Guwahati and Tawang and other remote locations in Arunachal Pradesh and the rest of the north-east.

CM expresses shock

Chief Minister Dorjee Khandu, who was at Tawang to attend a meeting along with Union Rural Development Minister Vilas Rao Deshmukh, expressed shock at the accident.

"I am shocked and pained to hear about the unfortunate incident and have no words to share my grief on the sad occasion," Khandu said in his condolence message.

"I along with my family members, my cabinet colleagues and people of Arunachal Pradesh pay our heartfelt condolences to the bereaved family members to bear this irreparable loss," the message read.


(Agencies)