Itanagar: Inclement weather on Sunday affected the aerial search to trace the missing helicopter carrying Arunachal Pradesh Chief Minister Dorjee Khandu and four others even as the Army, SSB, ITBP and the state police launched a ground operations to locate it.

Defence sources said 30 columns of the Indian Army comprising 2,400 personnel from Tawang and Tenga were pressed in different locations along the Indo-Bhutan border on ground search. Six ITBP teams with 25 personnel each have also joined the ground search operations.

More Army columns are likely to join soon while two Chetak helicopters from Guwahati and an MI-17 IAF chopper from Tawang are on sorties.

In New Delhi, IAF officials said two Sukhoi-30 warplanes have been dispatched from Bareily to scan the general area using their special radars.

Sukhoi planes have helped in locating the wreckage of the missing chopper of the then Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Y S Rajasekhara Reddy in September, 2009. Reddy and four others on board the chopper died.

Though the choppers were scheduled to begin search operations at 5.30 am, inclement weather delayed them by more than three hours.

Search teams from the neighbouring Bhutan have also launched rescue operation in seven districts of the country, sources said.

Union Ministers Mukul Wasnik and V Narayanswamy are on their way to Itanagar from New Delhi to monitor the search operations, official sources said.

Indian Ambassador to Bhutan Pavan Verma said that the operations were being done by the Indian Government and the Bhutanese authorities were providing all cooperation.

Khandu's helicopter was the third to get into trouble in the northeast in the last fortnight.

On April 19, a Pawan Hans helicopter crashed at Tawang heliport, bordering Tibet, killing 17 people and injuring six others on board.

In May 2001, Arunachal Pradesh Education Minister Dera Natung and five others were killed when their Pawan Hans aircraft crashed near Tawang because of poor visibility.

In 2009, an IAF AN-32 aircraft crashed at Mechunka killing all 13 defence personnel on board. Eleven Air Force personnel and an Army Lieutenant Colonel were killed when an Air Force MI-17 helicopter crashed near the China frontier on November 19, last year a minute after takeoff.

Satellite images cloud-covered: ISRO

Satellite images of the area where the helicopter carrying Arunachal Pradesh Chief Minister Dorjee Khandu and four others were cloud-covered and nothing could be spotted, Indian Space Research Organisation said on Sunday in Bangalore.

"The images are cloud-covered and so far nothing could be spotted," ISRO spokesperson Satish said.
The Centre had sought the help of ISRO to trace the missing chopper and the agency has posted the satellite images on its website.

Sukhois search for missing chopper

Two IAF Sukhois from Bareilly carried out an aerial search, while a Mi17 chopper which went looking for the missing helicopter carrying Arunachal Pradesh Chief Minister Dorjee Khandu and four others made two sorties before bad weather forced it to return on Sunday.

"Two Sukhoi jets carried out a mission. We are awaiting their report. The weather was bad till noon. It cleared a bit after 1:00 pm," spokesman at the Army's 4 Corps in Tezpur Col NN Joshi said.

"It gets dark by 4:00 pm. So proper search operations will be between from 1:00 pm to 4:00 pm," he said.

Earlier, Defence Spokesman Wing Commander Ranjeev Sahoo said in Shillong that an IAF Mi17 chopper searched for the missing helicopter, but bad weather forced it to return.

The helicopter from Tawang searched the Bhutan areas besides the Tawang-Itanagar route, he said.

Two Cheetah helicopters were on stand-by at Tezpur and another Mi17 at Guwahati, which could not take off because of the weather, he added.

Defence sources said 30 columns of the Indian Army comprising 2,400 personnel from Tawang and Tenga were searching on the ground for the missing helicopter on the Indo-Bhutan border.

Six ITBP teams with 25 personnel each also joined the ground search operations.

Meanwhile, the Regional Meteorological Centre forecast rain or thunder showers and thunder squalls with wind speed exceeding 50 kmph.

Thunder squalls with wind speed exceeding 50 kmph may occur at one or two places over Arunachal Pradesh, Assam and Meghalaya during the next 24 hours.

The four-seater single-engine Pawan Hans helicopter with the Chief Minister and the others went missing on Saturday 20 minutes after takeoff from Tawang at 9:56 am.

(Agencies)