Itanagar, May 3: The focus of the search operations for the chopper that went missing last Saturday with Arunachal Pradesh chief minister Dorjee Khandu and four others on board shifted to Bhutan today.
Union minister of state V. Narayanasami told reporters this evening that two of the seven locations identified by the Indian Space Research Organisation (Isro) and Sukhois had been searched but “no clue” was found.
“The search at Nagar GG and Bongajan in West Kameng district did not yield anything. A search team will be reaching Pakhtu GG in Bhutan by this evening, one of the seven shortlisted sites. This site will be our new focus area along with the other four remaining sites. Bhutan is extending all help,” he said.
Personnel of the state police, Indo-Tibetan Border Police, Sashastra Seema Bal, army, Border Roads Organisation, IAF, National Disaster Response Force have been engaged in the search operations which has been hampered by inclement weather and difficult terrain at altitudes of 13,000 to 14,000 feet.
“We are praying for the safe return of the chief minister and others. The Centre has accorded utmost priority to the search operations, with the state government, defence, home, external ministries and the PMO involved in the rescue operations along with local residents. Around 2,500 troops and 1,000 locals are also involved in the operations,” Narayanasami said.
His colleagues, Mukul Wasnik and Bijoy Krishna Handique, were among the leaders present at the media briefing, with journalists posing some uncomfortable questions. Inadequate troops and attempt to shield the person who had made the call to say that the chopper had landed safely in Bhutan were some of them.
Narayanasami said the first priority now was the search operations. “Other issues will be dealt with subsequently,” he said.
Regarding appointment of a caretaker chief minister till Khandu’s return for smooth functioning of the administration, he said the high command was seized of the matter, without elaborating.
A 20-member team of National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) equipped with hi-tech search and rescue equipment launched a ground search at Nagar GG in West Kameng district, sources said.
Braving inclement weather, the team from NDRF’s 1st battalion based in Guwahati, led by its assistant commandant Manohar Singh, launched the search on foot in the hostile terrain from the SSB camp at Dirang around 6am today.
“The team marched to Nagar GG where the locals told them that they had heard a bang last Saturday. Moreover, the satellite images have also picked up something, which could be the wreckage of the helicopter,” said deputy commandant of NDRF’s 1st battalion, Harbhajan Singh.
“However, they could not find any wreckage till this evening when the search was called off because of bad light and unfavourable weather conditions. The search will resume early tomorrow morning,” he said.
The Arunachal Pradesh government this evening announced a reward of Rs 10 lakh for those who could provide information about the missing chief minister.
All Arunachal Pradesh Students’ Union president Takam Tatung, on the other hand, appealed to the state ministers and MLAs to maintain calm and facilitate the search operation instead of running around for signatures for change of the Congress Legislature Party leader.
It also sought strict action against Pawan Hans Helicopters Limited chairman and managing director R.K. Tyagi and demanded that his assets be frozen for ignoring the demand for safer service.