Srinagar, Aug. 5: He’s been through four deadly crashes, and each time lived to fly again. But the ace pilot’s luck ran out this morning when his chopper crashed on a smoky mountaintop in Kashmir, killing him and four pilgrims bound for the cave shrine of Amarnath.
Police said the six-seater Bel 407 helicopter with J.S. Kahlon at the controls crashed on a mountain in the upper reaches of Ganderbal, 30 km from here, after the rotor blades hit a tree in thick fog.
The deceased pilgrims have been identified as Vineet Kasadia and his wife, Om Narayan and Sangeeta Narayan. Another pilgrim, Ajay Bindal, who was critically wounded, is being treated at a hospital. Sources said the bodies are being flown to Delhi.
Every year, thousands of devotees trek to the shrine situated at an altitude of 3,880 metres. This year, the government has also been flying affluent pilgrims and security officials on the helicopter to the shrine.
The Jammu and Kashmir government has ordered an inquiry into the accident, which occurred around 7.30 am, inspector-general of police K. Rajendra Kumar said. The chopper, he added, was flying low and apparently hit a tree on a hilltop.
Kahlon, who was close to former chief minister Farooq Abdullah, headed the state’s aviation department. He was the first pilot to be brought in by Abdullah, whose passion for “flying toys” fructified into a full-fledged department of civil aviation with Kahlon heading a small fleet of one Beechcraft aeroplane and three choppers. Kahlon, who is from Chandigarh, had been in the state since 1986.
Kahlon must have flown Abdullah countless number of times and even took him to play golf in Punjab. State government sources said he survived at least four air crashes in which the choppers were reduced to fragments. Sources said Kahlon had also become close to current chief minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed.