New Delhi, Jan. 18: An Indian Air Force helicopter was hit in firing by suspected Maoists in Chhattisgarh on Friday as it was landing to evacuate casualties in an encounter between the state police and the rebels.
A policeman was killed and two others were injured in the encounter between the Chhattisgarh armed police and the insurgents. The helicopter could not complete its mission.
The IAF is mandated to open fire if it is fired at by Naxals. But the Mi 17 1V helicopter, that can be armed with a medium machine gun and rockets, was not used as a gunship, air force sources said. Use of military firepower will mark a serious escalation in counter-Naxal operations.
“The helicopter was hit twice as it was about to land. It was about to lose control but the crew managed to manouevre and land successfully in a field,” an IAF spokesperson said.
The helicopter had a hydraulic systems failure, a generator failure and a fuel leak.
A wireless operator of the state police who was in the helicopter was injured but was said to be safe.
An intelligence source said the aircrew had abandoned the chopper with the police wireless operator in it and left for Chinta Gufa. The operator had since left the chopper after hearing voices and has sent an SOS. A CRPF Cobra unit has been sent to secure the helicopter.
State police sources said the chopper landed about a kilometer away from its designated spot. It was hit twice by bullets and had a hard landing but was said to flight worthy
. The helicopter had gone off the radar for some time. It was said to have landed in Timilwada around 4.40pm.
Timilwada is a recently-built police post in the Chinta Gufa Police Station area. State troopers had objected to the poor infrastructure and lack of security in the post.
The four-member crew of the Mi 17 1V helicopter was reported to be safe at Chinta Gufa police station in South Chhattisgarh’s Dantewada, about a four km trek from the encounter site in Timilwada. A company of the CRPF has been sent to secure the helicopter.
The helicopter took-off from Jagdalpur after 4pm – too late in the day for a flying machine without night vision devices – in response to an emergency call to evacuate casualties.
The Mi 17 1V helicopters deployed by the IAF for counter-naxal operations are being replaced by Mil Mi-17 V5 helicopters imported from Russia last year that are capable of night-flying.
On December 21 2011, naxals had fired at and damaged a similar helicopter not far from the site of today’s encounter. Even then the IAF was evacuating state and central police troopers after an encounter. The crew of that helicopter was given gallantry awards.
A CRPF sources said a company of armed police were on their way to secure the chopper after today’s encounter. The company had not yet reached the spot till late evening.