New Delhi, Sep.2 (ANI): Congress president Sonia Gandhi has asked Union Law Minister and general secretary in charge of Andhra Pradesh Veerappa Moily and Minister of State in the Prime Minister's Office Prithviraj Chauhan to rush to Hyderabad to oversee the search and rescue operations for missing state Chief Minister Y.S. Rajshekhar Reddy.
The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) has also joined in the search operation. Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram has said that he has advised the Andhra Pradesh Government to conduct a ground search for Reddy through the night. Aerial search has been called off.
The Indian Air Force has deployed Sukhoi 30 fighter jets to conduct an air sweep of the area where the chief minister's chopper is said to have landed due to inclement weather.
The decision to send Moily and Chauhan comes as the State Government sources said the CRPF, the Army and Special Forces would conduct their search on foot through the night till the chief minister is traced.
The defence personnel would move along the same route that the chief minister took, notwithstanding the inclement weather.
The Andhra Pradesh Government has separately set up 14 teams, each consisting of eight members (112 personnel), to search for Reddy.
Local villagers have also been provided with torches and other equipment to help in the search of an area that is dominated by Naxals.
The State Government has also asked the Central Government to provide it with an unmanned aircraft and all-weather Fokker aircraft for the search operation in the Nanamalla and Seer Sailam forest ranges.
Meanwhile, the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) has denied that the seven-seater Bell chopper was not air worthy. It said that the outdated certificate that a private channel accessed appeared on the DGCA web site. The DGCA says the copter is air worthy.
The State Government has also said that it will be giving a fresh update on the situation at 7 p.m.
The State Government said that bad weather, time constraints plus the dense forested area where the chopper may have landed is hampering rescue operations. It appealed to the general public to step in and help in the rescue operations along with the Indian Air Force and the Army.
The Congress party on Wednesday held an emergency press briefing here on the issue.
Party spokesman Manish Tewari told media persons that it is an evolving situation that is being closely monitored by the Central and State Governments, besides the Congress president Sonia Gandhi.
The party said that state government is handling a very sensitive situation as the copter is said to have landed somewhere in the forests between the three districts of Rayalseema, Prakasham and Chitoor.
Tewari said that every effort was being made to resolve the situation as quickly as possible given the limited time available. He said that four Indian Air Force helicopters, one MI8 and a Dhruv chopper have been pressed into the rescue operation.
Earlier, Andhra Pradesh Finance Minister K.Rosiah confirmed that the chopper carrying the Chief Minister had landed in a forest area and efforts were on to locate it.
Addressing a news conference in Hyderabad, Rosiah said: "All state and central forces are on alert. At the moment, we are still tracing the location of the missing chopper, which has landed in the forests in the Chitoor-Nellore area. We are finding a way to reach the place."
Rosiah said the state government has alerted the Union Home Ministry about the missing chopper. He said that after 9.35 a.m., contact had been lost with the chopper carrying the chief minister.
Rosiah said that the Prime Minister's office as well as the offices of Congress president Sonia Gandhi, Home Minister P. Chidambaram and Defence Minister A.K. Antony are being kept posted about the latest developments.
He also issued an appeal to the public to contribute to the search effort.
Rosiah's briefing came as Andhra Pradesh Police continues their search for the missing chopper.
Panic was created around Wednesday noon as Reddy was reported untraceable for nearly four hours.
Reddy was on his way to Chitoor, by chopper which initial reports said had made an emergency landing near Kurnool due to inclement weather.
The chopper took off at 8.45 a.m. for Chitoor and was scheduled to arrive here at 10.45 a.m, sources said.
The chopper was said to have landed in the middle of a thick forest, said to be affected by Maoist activities.
The Chief Minister's Office (CMO) confirmed receiving a message of the emergency landing of the chopper, but nothing thereafter.
Till now, no one has confirmed the movements of Reddy.
The Union Home Ministry is monitoring the search operations, as Kurnool is a Naxal affected area.
Air Traffic Control (ATC) sources said the chopper went off the radar due to heavy rains.
The CMO maintains there is no need to worry as the area has no mobile connectivity. (ANI)