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Siachen helicopter crash kills major

New Delhi, May 23: A futile war fought with outdated equipment claimed the life of yet another young army officer this morning in the Siachen Glacier.

Major Chandrashekhar Singh, one of the two pilots of a Cheetah helicopter, was killed when his machine crashed shortly after unloading supplies at a 19,685 feet high helipad.

His colleague, Major Amit Mahindra, was seriously injured. Army spokesman Colonel Jagdeep Dahiya said an inquiry has been ordered.

The helicopter was on a “maintenance sortie” — carrying fuel and rations — for soldiers at the Bhim post in the northern section of the glacier.

Even though Pakistani and Indian soldiers have not been firing at each other since a ceasefire in the glacier that was declared in 2003, weather and the elements combine to make the frozen battlefield deadly for the two armies.

The defence secretaries of India and Pakistan are scheduled to meet for a 13th round of talks in Islamabad on June 11 and 12. But defence minister A.K. Antony has already told Parliament that no dramatic decision — such as demilitarisation — can be taken unless Pakistan authenticates the Actual Ground Position Line (AGPL).

After an avalanche buried an estimated 135 Pakistani soldiers in April, their army chief General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani had said that he hoped a solution to the impasse in Siachen would be found.

India first bought the Cheetah helicopter from France in 1971. Although the helicopters have been produced in India under licence, the technology is outdated.

The airframe of the helicopter was built for 4500 flying hours. Most of the helicopters with the Army Aviation Corps have flown more than 6000 hours. At Siachen, the helicopters are also flown routinely over their flight ceiling of 17,000 feet. The Bhim Post where the Cheetah crashed today is close to 20,000 feet.

The army’s acquisition of modern Light Utility Helicopters (LUH) to replace the Cheetah and the Chetak has been held up for more than six years because of allegations of corruption and general tardiness. Army sources said trials for a procurement of 197 helicopters have been completed and choice of the replacement was yet to be finalized by the ministry.

In November 2010, two air force officers escaped narrowly when the Cheetah helicopter they were flying in Siachen crashed.