Itanagar/New Delhi: Three days after Arunachal Pradesh Chief Minister Dorjee Khandu’s helicopter went missing and suspectedly crashed, hopes of Khandu being alive were waning fast on Tuesday. The government however said it had reached no conclusion as the search was continuing.

"We have not come to any conclusion. Unless and until the search group gives any kind of report, we will not come to any conclusion. We cannot come to any conclusion," Minister of
State in the PMO V Narayanasamy told reporters in Itanagar when asked about the fate of Khandu.

Hopes of Khandu being alive are receding fast as there has been no information about him after his helicopter lost contact at around 10.20 AM on Saturday while flying over Sela Pass in Arunachal.

The helicopter that went missing with five people on board, including the chief minister, has remained untraced since Saturday, with the authorities maintaining that bad weather was preventing rescue and search operations and citing that the terrain was rugged and inaccessible.

ITBP searches Bhutan

Nearly 300 ITBP personnel on Tuesday fanned out on foot heading towards a place five km inside Bhutan and for Nagajiji near the windy Sela Pass to track the missing helicopter.

Some metallic objects have been sighted at a place in Bhutan, several kilometers from Sela Pass where the helicopter lost contact, and search parties comprising 3,000 personnel from the Army, Border Roads Organisation, ITBP, SSB and Arunachal Pradesh Police were trying to reach there.

"According to inputs from the Arunachal government, local people have sighted something like an aircraft inside Bhutan. It's about five km inside Bhutan from the border. Having got
the clearance from Bhutanese authorities, one of our teams started on foot this morning," ITBP IG M S Bhurji said.

An ITBP team from Dirang in East Kameng district in Arunachal Pradesh started for Nagajiji near Sela Pass after infra-red images from IAF Su30s detected an 'aircraft-like' object.

It might take close to 10 hours for the men to reach following hazardous terrain with bad weather making the trek difficult.

Around 250 ITBP personnel have fanned out mostly around the Sela Pass and another 60 men were likely to be deployed soon, the IG said.

Two IAF Mi-17 choppers took off from Tawang in the morning and after a 45 minute sortie, they had to return from Sela Pass because of thick haze over the mountains. Four MI-17 choppers were stationed at Tezpur for search operations if the weather improved, defence spokesman N N Joshi said.

ISRO tracking

Army said in Delhi that ISRO, whose satellites have been trying to track the missing helicopter, has provided certain inputs on possible locations and "deep search of these locations is under progress".

Sources said the ISRO satellites have found presence of metallic objects 2.5 kms inside Bhutan, making the government to believe that the helicopter had crashed.

Bhutan government has already allowed ITBP, SSB and Arunachal Pradesh Police to enter its territory.       

The sources said nothing was found at an earlier location within a 66 sq km area in West Kameng district, where the ISRO satellite imagery had found traces of several metallic objects.

Satellite images from RISAT-2 reportedly traced a few metal parts in the area, which may be parts of a helicopter, Arunachal government spokesperson Jarbom Gamlin said.

Local people demand China help

Angry civil rights activists and influential student groups in Arunachal Pradesh on Tuesday asked the Central government to take China's help in tracking down the helicopter that went missing with Chief Minister Dorjee Khandu on board three days ago.

“If India is not capable of tracing the helicopter, they should not hesitate to take China's help so that we could get technological support from them in locating the chopper,” Takam Tatung, president of the All Arunachal Pradesh Students Union said.

Anger is palpable among local tribal people in this frontier mountainous state of Arunachal Pradesh, bordering China, Myanmar and Bhutan.

“Everybody knows the terrain is rough and mountainous and it rains heavily most of the time, but is that an excuse? What would India do if China comes and attacks us?” asked Bamang Tago, leader of the Arunachal Citizens Rights.

Rescue teams have been trudging towards the snow-capped mountain ranges near Sela Pass where some metallic objects were detected by ISRO. However, residents are angry.

JPN/Agencies