The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Tragedy in air chases Congress

Chandigarh/Lucknow, March 31: Tragedy in the air returned to haunt the Congress when two Haryana ministers were killed in a helicopter crash shortly after noon today.

Industrialist .P. Jindal, power minister in the new Haryana regime, and agriculture minister Surender Singh, the son of former chief minister Bansi Lal, died on the spot after the chopper crashed in a wheat field in Saharanpur district of Uttar Pradesh.

The pilot, P.S. Chauhan, was also killed, though two others accompanying the ministers survived.

A similar tragedy claimed Madhavrao Scindia in 2001 when the chopper he was travelling in crashed in Uttar Pradesh's Mainpuri district. In 1980, Sanjay Gandhi died in a plane crash in the capital.

Preliminary inquiries revealed the 75-year-old Jindal, the father of new Lok Sabha MP Naveen Jindal, and Surender, 59, were on their way to attend a party in honour of Haryana chief minister B.S. Hooda in Delhi.

Another minister, Phoolchand Mullana, had a providential escape. He had changed his mind at the last minute and decided to travel by road.

Police officials in Saharanpur said villagers saw the helicopter tossing in the air and then fall down from the sky 'without making any noise'. Saharanpur range IG Harbhajan Singh said investigations pointed to a sudden engine failure. 'It just fell to the ground. Had its engine been running, it would have exploded or its rotors would have caused some damage to the ground. Nothing of that sort happened.'

The Jindal group had bought the chopper in January. A company official said it was a favourite of the minister. The helicopter that was carrying Scindia was also owned by the group.

The survivors ' Ved Goyal, a close aide of Jindal, and Vinod Yadav, a personal security officer ' told police they had 'no time to react'. Goyal said a few seconds before the crash, the pilot was trying to say something. 'His voice got lost in the cry of the engine and soon we found ourselves diving headlong into the ground.'

Hooda, who rushed to the spot near Mehengi village, said: 'It is shocking and I pray that God provides strength to the families of those killed to bear the irreparable loss.'

Jindal is survived by his wife, son and five daughters. Surender leaves behind his wife and a daughter.

Congress chief Sonia Gandhi, who was in Rae Bareli to address a gathering, wrapped up her programme and headed back to Delhi. 'This is a heart-rending tragedy and the death of the two is a major loss to the party,' she said.

The Haryana government has declared a three-day mourning.

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