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Revealed: threat to chopper

New Delhi, Jan. 19: The Maoists who riddled an air force chopper with bullets in Chhattisgarh on Friday evening carried sophisticated weapons and were near enough to have captured the machinegun-fitted helicopter gunship after it landed, it emerged today.

This possibility underscores the gravity of the decision by the six air force personnel on board to leave the aircraft and the lone wounded policeman inside and walk off to the nearest police station.

The air force has ordered a court of inquiry into the incident, which earlier led police and air force sources to accuse each other of flouting standard procedures in a counter-insurgency operation. ( )

“It is against our ethos to abandon men and material,” an air force officer said.

An unmanned aerial vehicle has picked up signals that indicated a senior Maoist leader and his band, carrying automatic weapons and explosives, were within 1km east of the Mi-17 1V chopper after it landed in Maoist hotbed Timilwada, The Telegraph has learnt.

Intelligence agencies apparently realised this by intercepting a conversation involving Ramanna, CPI (Maoist) military commander of the Dandakaranya Special Zonal Committee.

CRPF sources said the rebels could have captured or blown up the helicopter — mounted with two light machine guns (LMGs) — along with M.K. Sahu, the state armed police head constable and wireless operator who had taken a bullet in the leg. It’s a scenario that pits the Maoists directly against the military.

On Saturday morning, an air force recovery team from Jagdalpur found at least 16 bullet marks on the helicopter: six on the glass, one each on the two rotor blades, one that tore into a tyre and others elsewhere on the body.

“This could not have been done without substantial firing capability with automatic weapons,” an official said.

Hours earlier, the Maoists had attacked a Chhattisgarh armed police road-opening party, killing head constable Baisuram Mandavi and injuring platoon commander Nandkishore Bhadoriya. The chopper was descending for landing when it came under fire.

Late on Friday night, a CRPF team of CoBRA commandos went and secured the chopper.

“Sahu was found away from the helicopter, badly injured, and given first aid,” a CoBRA source said.

Sahu and Bhadoriya, the platoon commander wounded in the earlier gunfight, were today flown to a Raipur hospital in an air force Avro aircraft.