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November 20, 2010

An Indian Air Force helicopter carrying 12 officers crashed near Tawang in north western Arunachal Pradesh Friday afternoon killing all the occupants

Guwahati, Nov 19: An Indian Air Force helicopter carrying 12 officers crashed near Tawang in north western Arunachal Pradesh Friday afternoon killing all the occupants. Reports cited an explosion barely three minutes after take-off as the likely cause of the crash, which occured at 12.05 pm.
Eyewitnesses said the helicopter ‘burst like crackers’ after ascending from the army helipad near the Korea Brigade headquarters in Tawang. It crashed at Bomdir, 10 km downhill by road, and at an elevation of 11,000 ft.
Tawang’s civilian helipad is located at Bomdir.
“We saw the helicopter go boom like a massive firecracker,” said local trader Sonam Thinley from Tawang.
IAF officials ruled out weather as a factor in the crash – Tawang was sunny on Friday. But they were reluctant to attribute it to an explosion.
“Technical fault is a possibility but everything will be clear after the commission of inquiry set up to probe the crash submits its report,” said a senior IAF officer.
“The bodies of all the officers and crew have been recovered. They included 11 IAF personnel, two of them flight lieutenants and an army officer (lieutenant colonel),” said Lt Col Rajesh Kalia, spokesman of the army’s 4 Corps based at Tezpur in central Assam.
Tawang sector is under the jurisdiction of the 4 Corps.
The eastern Himalayan belt from Tawang to Mechuka in West Siang district (central Arunachal Pradesh) is considered aviation- unfriendly. But IAF choppers and army’s AN-32 aircraft often have to operate in this belt to service defence personnel in forward posts along the border with China.
Friday’s mishap, though, is the first in 13 years not blamed on weather. On May 14 last year, 14 army personnel died when the AN-32 they were travelling in from Mechuka to Jorhat (Air Force base, central Assam) crashed soon after take-off from an advanced landing ground.
In May 2001, Arunachal Pradesh minister Dera Nat-ung and five others died when their Pawan Hans aircraft crashed near Tawang due to poor visibility.
On 14 November 1997, minister of state for defence NVN Somu and Major General Ramesh Nagpal and two others died when their four-seater Cheetah hit a 1300 feet peak, 40 kms from Tawang. General Nagpal was the chief of 5 Division at Tenga, midway between Tawang and Tezpur.
A commission of inquiry has been ordered. IAF sources said as the weather was clear it was unlikely that the chopper could have encountered any obstruction.
Arunachal Pradesh chief minister Dorjee Khandu has condoled the deaths.