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Copter stuck on last-minute helipad

Jan. 18: The helicopter hired by the government for the Santiniketan-Calcutta service got stuck in a Birbhum helipad that was hurriedly built hours before the inaugural flight landed today.

Six passengers who were supposed to take the chopper to Calcutta were ferried to the city in cars hired by the Birbhum administration in the evening, hours after the helicopter was supposed to begin its return journey.

The chopper’s wheels got stuck minutes after it landed at 12.30pm on the helipad at Paruldanga, 3km from Santiniketan, with another set of six passengers. The passengers had got off by then.

Senior district officials said the concrete floor of the helipad was not firm enough to take the weight of the chopper as it had been built only hours before the landing.

“The district authorities began building the helipad only last night and finished it this morning. The promotional flight on January 12 (ferrying actor Prosenjit and director Srijit Mukherjee) had landed at another place in Santiniketan,” an official said.

Birbhum district magistrate J.P. Meena said a probe would be conducted to find out whether the block development officials tasked with overseeing the construction of the helipad had been negligent. “I will inquire into the incident. I will try to find out why the helipad was not prepared on time,” he said.

The passengers, who had paid Rs 1,500 each for the ride, expressed dissatisfaction with the service. “We were supposed to take the chopper to Calcutta around 1.30pm. But the copter did not take off. We had to wait till the evening for cars. The state administration, it seems, is not ready to run the chopper service,” said a passenger who preferred anonymity.

The district magistrate said Pawan Hans, the company that has signed an agreement with the government to run helicopter services from Calcutta to Sagar island, Digha and Asansol, had been informed about today’s incident.

A Pawan Hans official said company engineers had reached Santiniketan and were in the process of freeing the wheels of the chopper. “It will fly back to Calcutta tomorrow. But the helipad has to be built properly for the once-a-week service to continue without glitches,” he said.