Hyderabad, Sep.3 (ANI): The Army confirmed on Thursday morning that the Air Force has homed in on the missing chopper carrying Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Y.S. Rajshekhera Reddy and four others about 40 nautical miles east of the Kurnool mountaineous area.
A television channel report quoted an Air Force spokesperson as saying it was unclear whether the chopper had crashed and whether there were any survivors.
A local TV channel had earlier brought out unconfirmed information that some remains of what appeared to be the chopper had been traced. The accessibility to the spot where the helicopter is difficult and will take some time to reach.
"We have located the helicopter. It is on top of a hill at a distance of 40 nautical miles east of Kurnool. We are trying to find out whether there were any survivors. We are not sure whether the chopper crashed. Two Air Force helicopters are orbiting there trying to find a place to land, but because the chopper is on top of a hill, it's a jungle it has been very difficult to land," said an Army spokesperson adding that further details were awaited from the site.
The chopper is said to be located between Rudrakonta and Rollapenta near Kurnool town. Commandos, police and paratroopers are moving towards the area
Meanwhile, the core committee of the Congress party is meeting in New Delhi to assess the latest developments. The Prime Minister, Dr. Manmohan Singh, will convene a meeting to the Union Cabinet after the Congress meeting to decide on the next steps in the rescue operation.
Earlier reports said The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) would conduct two fly-bys at 9.30 a.m. and 10.30 a.m. respectively with the help of CARTOSAT One and Two as part of their intensified search operations for missing Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Y.S. Rajashekhara Reddy on Thursday.
State Government sources said that they have narrowed down the search to a five-square kilometer radius in the Nallamala Forest Range where they believe the seven-seat Bell helicopter carrying the chief minister may have gone down on Wednesday between 9 a.m. and 9.30 a.m.
Notwithstanding a heavy cloud cover, a three-pronged search operation has been launched. Four helicopters have taken off for the search. At least 700 villagers, bow and arrow wielding Chenchu tribals who are familiar with the terrain and former Naxals have reportedly joined in the search operations.
The State Government has refused to make any comment on the latest developments in view of the fact that there are conflicting reports with regard to the copter's whereabouts. There is a lot of cross-checking being done to come up with verifiable facts.
Reddy"""s chopper went missing while he was on his way from Kurnool to Chittoor. He was accompanied by his Principal Secretary S Subramanyam and Chief Security Officer A S C Wesley. There were two pilots also on board the twin-engined Bell 430 helicopter that lost contact with Air Traffic Control at the Begumpet Airport in Hyderabad when it was headed for Chittoor district, about 600 kilometres from Hyderabad.
ISRO chief G. Madhavan Nair and his team are monitoring a low flying remote sensing plane. Satellite images are being used to try and trace the place. So far, 41 images have been taken but none of them have revealed any information about the chief minister's whereabouts.
As of now the Indian Government has said that it has not requested the United States for help in the matter, but has confirmed that the unmanned vehicle that is presently deployed in the north eastern part of the country is being kept on standby.
The Army, Indian Air Force (IAF), Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) personnel, Andhra Police Greyhound commandos along with local police and district officials has entered the Nallamalla Forests to launch the massive search and rescue operation for Reddy.
About 250 Army personnel with night vision devices have joined the search operations.
"We have deployed two columns and one Ghatak (jungle warfare specialist) platoon in the area for searching the Chief Minister. Our troops are equipped with night vision devices such as goggles and hand held thermal imagers," Army officials said.
Congress president Sonia Gandhi is expected to arrive in Hyderabad shortly to be with Reddy's anguished family members and to get a hand on assessment of the search operation.
She has already sent Union Law Minister and Congress general secretary in charge of Andhra Pradesh affairs Veerappa Moily and Union Minister of State in the Prime Minister's Office Prithviraj Chauhan to the city to monitor developments.
Chauhan told press persons that the State and Central Governments are sparing no efforts to search for the chief minister.
Meanwhile, National Security Advisor M.K. Narayanan has said that while both the state and central governments are extremely concerned and worried about the missing chief minister, all available resources are being deployed for the search.
He said Army and Air Force helicopters have been conducting a search of the region. He also confirmed that two fixed-wing Sukhoi 30 aircraft with synthetic aperture radar capabilities have been pressed into service.
Forces on the ground are also on the lookout for the missing helicopter and its individuals.
Narayanan said that the lack of communication is a major problem and also ruled out the probability of a Naxal strike.
"I don"""t think the Naxals have the capability to bring down a helicopter," he said.
"There is no question about calling off the search till we discover what happened there. We are hopeful we will find the Chief Minister, his chief secretary and PSO without serious injuries," he added. (ANI)