Chopper with Arunachal Chief Minister still missing

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ITANAGAR, April 30 (IANS): Mystery surrounds the whereabouts of a helicopter carrying Arunachal Pradesh Chief Minister Dorjee Khandu, with official claims that it had been traced to Bhutan denied and no news about the chopper till late evening Saturday.

Bhutan has denied any Indian helicopter had landed in its territory.

`We have also heard through the media about the helicopter landing in Bhutan, but we don`t have any reports of an Indian helicopter landing in our territory. But we have deployed troops and local villagers to see if any helicopter has landed here,` S. Duba, deputy commissioner of Trashiyangtse district in Bhutan adjoining Tawang, told IANS by phone.

`The official position is there is no confirmation or news about the helicopter. There has been no direct contact with any of the five people on board and we really don`t know any details as of now,` Arunachal MP Takam Sanjay told IANS.

`The fact of the matter is we don`t know yet where the helicopter is,` Sanjay said.

The Pawan Hans AS350 B-3 helicopter had taken off from Tawang at 9.50 a.m. Saturday and was supposed to land in Itanagar at 11.30 a.m.

According to Sanjay, the chopper lost communication with the ground after it flew past the Sela Pass along the Chinese border.

The helicopter had two pilots and three passengers on board, including the chief minister and his personal security officer. The third passenger, a woman named Lamu, is said to be a relative of Dorjee.

The Indian government is in constant touch with Bhutan to find out about the missing chopper.

`We are in constant touch with the central government at the highest level. Initially we are also told the chopper had landed in Bhutan, but now there are conflicting reports coming in,` Sanjay said.

Around 2 p.m., Arunchal Pradesh Governor Gen (retd) J.J. Singh and the state chief secretary spoke to the media, and also gave telephonic interviews to various national TV channels, saying the helicopter had landed safely with all the five passengers.

The chief minister`s adviser Kiren Rijiju also confirmed the news, saying the chopper had landed somewhere in eastern Bhutan adjoining Tawang district due to bad weather and it was flying back to Guwahati with the chief minister on board.

The helicopter is a single-engine chopper. In case of an engine failure, there are very slim chances of the helicopter making a safe landing.

On April 19, a Pawan Hans helicopter crashed in Tawang, killing 17 people and injuring six.

The Pawan Hans Helicopter Services Limited (PHHL) has been operating five helicopters across Arunachal Pradesh, Sikkim, Meghalaya, Nagaland and Tripura and daily Guwahati-Tawang services for the past nine years. It is one of the major lifelines of the landlocked Arunachal Pradesh.

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