K. Srinivas Reddy , hindu
HYDERaBAD: Security forces searching for a missing helicopter came under naxal fire in the Gangalur area of the Bastar forest on Friday afternoon.
The search teams were inching their way ahead after a fierce two-hour-long gunbattle. There were no causalities on either side, but the rebel ambush, coupled with heavy rain, hampered the search and salvage operation.
The private helicopter, which took off from Hyderabad on Sunday afternoon, was to stop at Jagdalpur for refuelling before heading for Raipur.
But it disappeared while flying over the Bastar forest, a Maoist base area. Authorities believe that the chopper might have crashed in Bastar due to low visibility following heavy rain.
Hundreds of security forces on the search mission were inching their way in thick jungles, where the rebels hold sway. The Indian Air Force also pressed into service some choppers to locate the wreckage, but it was not of much help, senior police officers in Raipur told The Hindu over telephone.Reconnaissance inputs
The security forces received information, based on aerial reconnaissance inputs, about the wreckage having been found at two places in Bijapur district. However, at one of the places, the police found an abandoned tractor and a trolley while at Gangalur, the security forces came under attack. “Firing continued for nearly two hours. There were no casualties from our side,” said Giridhari Nayak, Additional Director-General of the Chhattisgarh police.
The government has announced a reward of Rs. 1 lakh for any information leading to location of the copter wreckage.
The police discount the possibility of the chopper being shot down by rebels as it flew over the Bastar forest, which is spread over 40,000 sqkm. There is every possibility of its having crashed in low visibility, say the police.
“The hilly terrain is too tough and when it rains, it is blinding and the chopper might have crashed. Besides, there would be very thick clouds over the forest areas reducing visibility to as low as five feet,” said an officer who worked in Bastar till recently.Attacks on copters
Maoists earlier made attempts to shoot down helicopters flying over their strongholds. About two months ago, a four-seat helicopter, carrying police officers got hit in the rotors, but the pilot landed safely in Jagdalpur.
In August 2007, Maoists fired at a helicopter carrying Chhattisgarh DGP Vishwaranjan at Chintalnar village of Dantewada.
The police chief was on his way to Mukaram village, where 13 policemen were killed by Maoists.
On July 14, 2007 ‘Maina’, a helicopter owned by the Chhattisgarh government, crashed in the Rajnandgaon area after it took off from Bhopal. Four people including two pilots were killed.