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PM chopper flutter

New Delhi, Dec. 17: Security agencies impounded a helicopter and arrested its two pilots for landing around the time Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s chopper was about to take off in Himachal Pradesh this afternoon.

The Deccan Aviation chopper touched down in Bilaspur to pick up Congress leader R.K. Dhawan, allegedly ignoring warnings from the ground staff not to land.

Pilots K. Mehta and S.M. Sehgal were taken into custody immediately after the landing, being viewed as a major breach of the Prime Minister’s security. No flight can land or take off once his flight path has been set.

The “virtual forced landing”, sources said, sent the Special Protection Group guards into combat mode with their weapons drawn.

According to Bilaspur police chief Balbir Thakur, the duo were booked under the IPC and the Aircraft Act, 1934. They were released on bail later this evening after hours of questioning by SPG and Intelligence Bureau sleuths.

The pilots said they had clearance to land at the time and claimed they weren’t informed about Singh’s plan. The Prime Minister, in Himachal to address rallies ahead of the December 19 polls, was to leave for Palampur.

Deccan Aviation defended its pilots, claiming they had the clearances and weren’t informed about Singh’s flight plan. A spokesperson said the clearances from the air traffic control and defence authorities were granted around 1pm.

The company said a probe was needed to find out how the lapse occurred and to prevent such incidents. “It is important that steps or procedures be initiated to avoid similar incidents in the future,” the spokesperson said.

The Congress shrugged off the incident, saying it was a “small mistake”.

“I don’t think this is a security breach. It (the landing) was not done knowingly and is just a small mistake,” state party chief Viplov Thakur said.

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