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US keeps air force relief plane waiting

New Delhi, Sept 7: Jet, set... wait!

The Indian Air Force has taken off on Hurricane Katrina and New Orleans but its planeload of relief for the cyclone victims has been stalled with Washington putting it on hold.

An IAF transport aircraft full of goodwill and relief for hurricane victims to New Orleans was to take off early this morning. But even this evening, Washington had not given the green signal. The air force is expecting that the aircraft would take off tomorrow.

The IAF announced yesterday that its IL-76 transporter commanded by Group Captain R. Sharma will carry 25 tonnes of relief, including 50,000 first-aid kits, tarpaulin sheets, blankets and 25,000 cots and pillows, to New Orleans.

Apparently, the IAF had readied the plane and nearly put it on the runway before the foreign ministry beeped that it was not cleared for takeoff.

Air headquarters announced the mission ' and claimed it was the first of its kind to the US ' even before Washington had conveyed to Delhi that the relief was welcome.

Relief for the the victims of Hurricane Katrina that lashed Louisiana is being coordinated by the US’s Federal Emergency Management Agency (Fema).

It is understood that Fema is managing offers of help from more than 90 countries and organisations, including India and Bangladesh.

India has already donated $5 million to the US Red Cross.

Fema is required to communicate to the US embassy in India and through it to the Indian government the quantum and quality of aid it would need to distribute.

Air headquarters’ sources said the decision to send the planeload of relief was made at the behest of the foreign ministry. But the ministry has received no word yet from its US counterpart.

The air force had also announced the route the relief plane will be taking. After taking off from New Delhi, the transporter was expected to touchdown at Doha, Cairo and Boston before landing in New Orleans on September 9 as per the original schedule.

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