The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Search glare on smaller islands

Port Blair, Jan. 4: The Integrated Relief Command in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands has decided to scout several smaller islands with the help of five new helicopters and a gigantic naval ship as over 6,010 people are reportedly missing and only 900 bodies have been found.

Apart from 37-odd islands, there are several smaller islands, which have 70-80 people living on them. The authorities are not sure of their fate.

'We have asked for five hi-tech M-series helicopters, which can carry cargo over 1.5 tons compared with Chetak choppers, which can carry only 500 kg of load,' Lt General B.S. Thakur, the IRC vice-chairman, said today.

'These helicopters will give further impetus to our search, rescue and relief mission,' he added.

The administration, it is learnt, has expressed concern about the missing as their figure has risen from 3,000-plus to double that in three days.

'It is sad but the death toll will mount quite a lot, it seems,' said a senior official in charge of logistics.

The helicopters ' two M1-17s and three M1-8s ' flew in today from Gorakhpur and Dibrugarh. 'We had to fly the M1-8s over foreign airspace to save time. They flew over Chittagong and Myanmar and luckily, the governments gave us permission,' Lt General Thakur said.

Defence sources said the helicopters, after a routine assessment, would be deployed to find life on the southern islands.

Another Indian naval ship, Darshak, reached Port Blair today to help in rescue and relief. 'The ship has just been commissioned in the navy and has helicopters and in-built hospital facilities,' a defence spokesman said.

The four Indonesians, who were rescued by coast guard ship Vivek near Campbell Bay yesterday, have recuperated and told the police how they managed to stay alive.

'Since the engine had broken down, we had no chance of surviving. But we tied a big piece of cloth on to the boat to act as a sail,' said Sapang, one of the four.

'We knew the wind would help us sail and if God wished, we would survive. We had lost our navigational abilities after barely surviving the tsunami,' he added.

Air Chief Marshal Shashi Tyagi, the chief of air staff, said fighter planes could soon return to the Car Nicobar airbase.

'Once we repair the runway, the fighters will be back. But we don't have immediate plans to turn Carnic into a full-fledged fighter airbase,' he said.

The air chief added that the officers' quarters there would be relocated to a higher altitude, away from the coast.

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