New Delhi, Jan. 19: Friday evening’s Chhattisgarh encounter where Maoists pumped bullets into a helicopter has led police and the air force to accuse each other of flouting standard procedures in a counter-insurgency operation.
After the badly damaged chopper landed, the six air force men on board abandoned it and the lone injured policeman inside and walked off to the Chinta Gufa police station.
Air force sources later cited the bullet hits on the chopper to argue the aircrew had “managed to escape death by a whisker”: the gunshots had caused a hydraulic system failure, generator failure and a fuel leak in the chopper.
They said that when the aircrew reached the police station to get medical help for the injured cop, M.K. Sahu, they found no one there. They also claimed that the aircrew were “shocked” that the police had not “sanitised” the landing zone as required by standard operating procedures.
Air force sources said Sahu was too badly injured to be moved, and the CRPF could locate the chopper only after the aircrew gave its coordinates.
Chhattisgarh police chief Ram Nivas said his department would not comment on the aircrew’s decision, saying the air force personnel had done “what they thought best”. But police and paramilitary sources slammed the air force for “deserting” Sahu.
“Six IAF men, including two young-blooded Garuda commandos, were on the flight and they still left the man behind to die,” a CRPF official said on condition of anonymity.
“If they don’t want to fight, why (do we have) the two commandos (as escort), and why does the chopper carry two mounted LMGs (light machine guns)?”
The Garuda is a special air force unit, raised to secure its assets.
Late on Friday night, a CRPF team of CoBRA commandos trying to reach the chopper in Maoist hotbed Timilwada reported a weak voice over a wireless radio. “I hear some noises, am leaving the helicopter,” it said.
That was Sahu, the police head constable and wireless operator who had taken a bullet in the leg and was calling for help. Alone in the chopper, Sahu told the CRPF team he could hear some voices around the aircraft and was moving out because he felt unsafe.
The commandos then went and secured the chopper and rescued him.