Itanagar: A helicopter carrying Arunachal Pradesh Chief Minister Dorjee Khandu and four other people, which went missing on Saturday morning, has still not been found. (Read: Who is Dorjee Khandu)
Massive search operations are on to locate the missing Pawan Hans AS350 B-3 helicopter that had taken off from Tawang at 9.50 am on Saturday. It lost communication with the ground after it flew past the Sela Pass area about 20 to 25 minutes later.
A two-member high-level Central team, including Minister of State in the PrimeMinister's Office (PMO) V Narayanswamy and Union Minister Mukul Wasnik are inItanagar to take stock of the situation and oversee the search operations. (Watch: No news on Khandu yet, says Narayanswamy)
Defence sources have told NDTV that 30 columns of the Indian Army comprising 2,400 personnel have been sent to different locations along the Indo-Bhutan border as part of ground search operation. Six ITBP teams with 25 personnel are also helping in the search. Inclement weather is however, affecting the aerial searches. (Read: Bad weather hampers search operations)
Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) has also been roped in to help in locating the whereabouts of the missing helicopter. (Watch: ISRO roped in to trace Arunachal CM's chopper)
Satellite images sought by the Centre from ISRO also did not give any clue as the area where the helicopter ferrying Khandu, 56, went missing was under cloud cover.
"The images are cloud-covered and so far nothing could be spotted," ISRO spokesperson Satish said in Bangalore.
A crisis management group has already been formed in Arunachal Pradesh to decide about steps to be taken.
"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 said. "The fact of the matter is we don't know yet where the helicopter is," he added.
The helicopter was scheduled to land in Itanagar at 11.30 am on Saturday. Several media reports on Saturday afternoon quoted Arunachal Pradesh Governor Gen (retd) JJ Singh and the state Chief Secretary and said that the helicopter had landed safely somewhere in eastern Bhutan adjoining Tawang district and that the same helicopter was flying back to Guwahati with the Chief Minister on board.
Bhutan, however, later denied that any Indian helicopter had landed in its territory, but said a search operation was launched following request from New Delhi.(Dorjee Khandu's missing chopper: What led to the confusion?)
"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 had landed here," S Duba, Deputy Commissioner of Trashiyangtse district in Bhutan, had said on Saturday evening.
Apart from Khandu, the people on board include crew members Captain JS Babbar and Captain KS Malick, Khandu's security officer Yeshi Choddak and Yeshi Lamu, sister of Tawang legislator Tsewang Dhondup.
The Indian government is in constant touch with Bhutan to find out about the missing chopper. (Search for Dorjee: Bhutan assures India all help)
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh spoke to the Arunachal Pradesh Governor on Saturday and enquired about the incident. He was briefed by National Security Advisor Shiv Shankar Menon about the search operations being carried out.
Congress president Sonia Gandhi also spoke to Dorjee's wife and son, party spokesman Tom Vadakkan said.
The missing helicopter, AS350 B-3, is a single-engine chopper. In case of an engine failure, there are very slim chances of the helicopter making a safe landing.
Pawan Hans has denied allegations that it was operating a fleet of old choppers in the region, and said the helicopter that carried Dorjee was only four months old and was on the VIP service.
The incident came just days after another Pawan Hans helicopter crashed in Tawang, killing 17 people and injuring six others. (With inputs from Agencies)