The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Mystery plane and a fireball in pond

Oct. 3: An aircraft flying low over a border village dropped a “bomb-like” object that exploded with a bang after it fell into a pond at Chopra in North Dinajpur today, police said quoting villagers.

“We don’t know for sure what it is, but the villagers said they had seen an aircraft dropping it. They said they also heard a loud explosion,” said district superintendent of police Arun Kumar Sharma, bringing back memories of the Purulia armsdrop.

A team led by Islampur sub-divisional police officer Utpal Kumar Naskar sealed off the pond as divers armed with fishing nets scoured it for any trace of the “bomb”.

Chopra panchayat samiti sabhapati Namita Roy said she was returning home after picking up her daughter from school around noon when she heard the buzz of an aircraft.

“I looked up and saw an aircraft flying low over the village. Suddenly, I saw the aircraft dropping a dark object,” Roy said. She added that she had seen the mystery object exploding in the air and the “fireball’’ falling into the pond.

But some villagers said the object blew up after it fell into the pond owned by Akbar Ali, a resident of Mokdamgach.

Indian Air Force spokesman Squadron Leader Rajesh Dhingra said in New Delhi they had not received any report from the Eastern Air Command about an unauthorised flight.

But the air headquarters did not deny that an intrusion into Indian airspace might have taken place. Not every square inch of the territory along the border is covered by radar. Moreover, the aircraft could have avoided detection if it was flying low. Air force sources said that in the eastern sector, radars were more active along the border with China than that with Bangladesh.

The air force is investigating whether the unidentified aircraft had illegally entered the country’s airspace and dropped a consignment.

Radars are installed in several bases in the Eastern Command, including Bagdogra and Hashimara in north Bengal and Shillong in the Northeast. But no radar picked up the signal of any unauthorised aircraft.

Director-general of the Border Security Force Ajai Raj Sharma confirmed that there were reports that a plane had “crossed over and dropped something in a pond around 12.30 pm”. Local authorities were informed at 2.30 pm. “Local police are searching the pond and we have directed our men to get there and assist the police,’’ he said.

Inspector-general of BSF (north Bengal) R.K. Thakur said if the villagers were right, the aircraft must have flown in from Bangladesh and violated Indian airspace. “Even our air force officers were taken by surprise and are now co-ordinating with us in the investigation.”

The district superintendent of police said he was not sure whether the aircraft had come from Bangladesh or was an Indian plane. “Villagers are mostly illiterate and it is hard for them to tell an Indian aircraft from a Bangladeshi one,’’ he said.

State authorities said if the reports were correct, it was a matter of serious concern as the incident resembled a similar intrusion into the state in December 1995, when a Russian-made aircraft dropped a cache of assault rifles, rocket launchers, anti-tank grenades and other ammunition in Purulia.

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