The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Dead pulled out of the depths

Mumbai, Aug. 13: Two days after the MI-172 helicopter carrying 25 employees of the Oil and Natural Gas Corporation and four flight staff crashed into the Arabian Sea, the families of D.K. Mittal and R.M. Murthy are the only ones left with some hope.

They are still missing. Mittal was the pilot of the helicopter and Murthy an ONGC employee. Other than these two, all passengers are now accounted for with a rescue team early this morning bringing ashore the bodies of 22 persons, all trapped inside the chopper.

While only two persons of the 29 on board had a miraculous escape as the chopper crashed at 12.18 pm on Monday, the others, it seems, died trying to break open the jammed aircraft doors. Three bodies were found on the first day itself.

The wreckage of the helicopter, belonging to a private firm, Mesco, was pulled out of the waters around 3.15 am after a nightlong search by the ONGC, the navy and the Coast Guard. Seven vessels were then called in to lift the chopper out. Its tail had broken while, surprisingly, most of the rest of the aircraft remained intact. More clues leading to the accident will now be provided by the retrieval of the cockpit voice recorder and the flight data recorder.

Angry relatives of those killed in the crash clustered around senior ONGC officials as bodies of the victims were brought to J.J. Hospital for post-mortem even as the unions reinforced calls for chairman and managing director Subir Raha’s head.

Close to 7,000 employees of ONGC started “non-cooperation”. Union members said the company had suffered a loss of around Rs 70 crore as a result, but officials contested the claim, saying that those on strike were from the clerical and administrative cadre and that production was unaffected. The path of “non-cooperation” was chosen after Bombay High Court stopped workers from going on an indefinite strike.

The mood against Raha was bitter. His vehicle was attacked yesterday by angry workers at the Juhu airbase though he escaped unhurt with the help of CISF jawans. An incensed chairman had said he would file a police complaint alleging attempt to murder, but appeared to have lowered his pitch with sources saying there was “no such plan to approach the police as of today”.

But ONGC unions were far from placated by Raha’s climbdown. “We are still angry that Raha did not think it necessary to come here even one day after the accident,” a member of the ONGC’s Association of Scientific and Technical Officers said.

The association added that the employees were protesting against declining safety standards. “Still the management has done nothing. We stick to our demand for a CBI probe into the accident, the removal of Raha and a bigger compensation package for the family members of the deceased,” a senior member said.

Other unions said they support the association’s demands. After a meeting today, the unions said several letters had been sent to the management about the lack of air safety of ONGC workers operating at offshore oil rigs.

“Even the audit report on the safety of ONGC workers has not been released,’’ workers sporting black badges shouted. “The non-cooperation would continue and by tomorrow the production would go down by 25 per cent,” a union activist said.

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