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Crash brings Bandhu down to earth

April 27: A probe was ordered today into the helicopter-crash at Raneshwar in Jamtara district this morning, in which casualties were averted but the flying machine’s underbelly was completely damaged. The wheels, too, came off.

The helicopter, hired by the state government from OSS Aviation to fly VIPs like the governor and the chief minister, had developed a technical snag and there was no alternative than to crash-land, said Capt. M.K. Sharma, one of the two pilots flying it.

It was a eight-seater helicopter and there were only six occupants, including the two crew members, recalled the pilot. The helicopter had been checked before taking off from Ranchi this morning, he maintained.

While directorate general of civil aviation is rushing a team to inquire into the crash, experts wondered why the heliopter was put in “auto-rotation”, under which both the engines were shut down. Chances are that technical snags would have occurred in only one of the engines, asserted the experts.

While the HRD minister, Bandhu Tirkey, escaped with only minor injuries on his limbs, the accident has put him in an uncomfortable position since he has to explain the circumstances under which he had allowed “unauthorised people” to fly in the helicopter with him. Tirkey himself hinted at sabotage and hoped that the probe would establish whether the accident was caused due to a technical snag or by sabotage or pilot-error.

The two pilots, Aloke Sen (52) from Mumbai and M.K. Sharma (44) from Delhi, sustained fractures and injuries in their spinal chord when the helicopter made an emergency landing.

Both were first taken to Suri Sadar hospital in Bengal for treatment. Capt. Sharma was later air-lifted by a Tata Steel helicopter to Jamshedpur and admitted to the Tata Main Hospital first before being taken to JJ Ghandy Memorial Hospital.

For Col. Aloke Sen, it was his first sortie in the state, said sources. He had recently joined OSS Aviation from Reliance. While Sen was discharged after first-aid from the Sadar hospital at Suri (Birbhum), he was re-admitted later in the evening.

The four other occupants escaped with minor injuries. The HRD minister was accompanied by Irfan Ansari, son of Congress MP Furqan Ansari, and a Ranchi-based newsperson, Akshay Kumar, and another person.

Eyewitnesses, gathered to welcome the minister, who was scheduled to attend a literacy programme, recalled seeing the helicopter wobbling in the air before disappearing on the other side of river Mayurakshi. They crossed the dry riverbed and found the helicopter at Alakpathar village, 6 km away. The villagers pulled out the injured passengers and laid them on cots.

Dumka deputy commissioner Mastram Meena had to walk the distance while the superintendent of police, Sido Hembrom, rode a motorcycle and reached the accident site around one-and-a-half-hour later.

The chopper sent to bring back the HRD minister and his guests landed at Dumka but could not take off due to inclement weather. The minister and others, thereafter, were put up for the night in the Circuit House. All of them complained of acute pain in various parts of the body.

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