GUWAHATI, Sept 6 - Frequent helicopter accidents in the hills of Arunachal Pradesh has become a cause of major concern and it is believed that very unpredictable weather in the hilly terrain is one of the major reasons for such crashes. Moreover, because of sparse population and thick jungles, it often takes days to find the wreckage of the crashed choppers in the State.
An Indian Police Service (IPS) officer, Robin Hibu, who was posted in Arunachal Pradesh for some time, has compiled a list of ten fatal helicopter crashes in recent times.
On April 19, 2010, 17 people were killed and six others injured when an Mi-17 helicopter belonging to Pawan Hans crashed near the Tawang monastery. In November 2010, 11 IAF officers and one Army officer were killed when another Mi-17 crashed at the Bomdila Pass bordering China after take-off from Tawang. In June 2011, at least 13 passengers died when an IAF AN-32 aircraft crashed en route to Jorhat after taking off from the Mechuka Advanced Landing Ground in Arunachal Pradesh. In May 2001, another Pawan Hans helicopter crashed near Bomdila, causing the death of five persons, including former Education Minister Dera Natung. Union Minister of State for Defence, NVN Somu, Major General Ramesh Nagpal and two others died when their Cheetah helicopter hit a 1,300 feet peak, 40 kms from Tawang in November 1997.
Former Education Minister Dera Natung, along with IAS officer Shangey Lhaden, deputy managing-director of The Times of India group Nandita Judge and two crew members died in a crash near Sessa in West Kameng district in May 2001. On August 6, 2010, a Pawan Hans crew member fell 10,000 feet to his death in Namsai district while trying to close a door that had opened during a flight. A Pawan Hans MI-17 flight from Guwahati to Tawang, trying to land at Tawang helipad, crashed in a gorge and caught fire on April 19, 2011. Of the 23 people on board, 17 were killed. Two more succumbed to burn injuries later.
On April 29, 2011, a Pawan Hans AS350 B-3 helicopter, carrying the then Chief Minister Dorjee Khandu and four other people went missing. It was traced four days later near Luguthang in Tawang district. All five people on board died. A Pawan Hans chopper with three persons on board, including the young Deputy Commissioner Kamlesh Kumar Joshi of Tirap district went missing at 11.15 am on August 4, 2015. The wreckage was found with three bodies from the thick jungle six days later.
All these accidents have raised doubts on the safety of flying passenger choppers over the hills of Arunachal Pradesh. Hibu said, �I too have terrible experiences while flying in Pawan Hans and Dauphin helicopters as SP and as DIG. Once we had to hover for two hours above the sky covered with pitch dark cloud below. I still shiver whenever I recall those harrowing times in air turbulence.
Meanwhile, when contacted former Vice Chief of the Indian Air Force, Air Marshal PK Barbora admitted that unpredictable weather condition is one of the major reasons for the accidents and said that the pilots should always go by the book and they should never take undue risks.
Air Marshal Barbora told The Assam Tribune that the weather becomes very unpredictable, particularly after midday in the area and at one point of time no chopper flew in that area after 12noon. But the situation has now changed with advanced choppers, but still the unpredictable weather creates serious threat. He said that very often the pilots are caught unawares of the sudden change of weather and it is difficult to maneouvre the choppers because of heavy cloud cover and air turbulence. The Sela pass area is one of the most vulnerable as the hill tops are too high and if the cloud cover is too dense, the pilots find it difficult to cross the pass.
Moreover, the performance of the choppers drop when forced to fly at a certain elevation because air becomes rare and the strength of the engines also goes down considerably. The pilots should always keep this issue in mind when flying over the hills of Arunachal Pradesh, he added.