Hyderabad: Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister YS Rajasekhara Reddy has gone missing while on his way from Karnool to Chittoor after the helicopter carrying him went off the radar and lost all contacts with the Air Traffic Controller In Hyderabad.
Army, Indian Air Force (IAF), Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) personnel, Andhra Police Greyhound commandos along with local police and district officials have launched a massive search and rescue operation for Rajasekhara Reddy in the densely forested area which is also a Naxal-stronghold
Four Army helicopters have been pressed into service to locate Reddy. While three helicopters have been brought in from Bangalore, one of the helicopter has been sent from Hyderabad.
The IAF has also pressed into service four helicopters including two Chetaks, one MI8 chopper and a Dhruv advanced light helicopter from Bangalore are also trying to trace the Chief Minister's helicopter, said an IAF spokesman.
The Chief Minister was accompanied by his Principal Secretary S Subramanyam and Chief Security Officer ASC Wesley when his helicopter lost contact at 0935 hrs IST with the Air Traffic Controller at the Begumpet Airport in Hyderabad while it was headed for Chittoor district, about 600 kilometres from Hyderabad.
There were two pilots also on board the twin-engine Bell 430 helicopter.
The 60-year-old Chief Minister was supposed to land at 1045 hrs IST in Chittoor. But there has been no news of Reddy’s helicopter landing and officials have failed to make any contact with the Chief Minister or any other person on the helicopter.
Reddy had taken off in the helicopter from Hyderabad at 0845 hrs IST.
Kurnool Superintendent of Police said that they have not been able to locate the Chief Minister so far. He said that Pamulapadu, Banakacherla and Karivena areas in the districts have been searched but the Chief Minister could not be traced.
Due to bad mobile connectivity and the area being heavily forested, officials have so far failed to make any contact with the Chief Minister sending security agencies into a tizzy.
PTI reports that Union Home Ministry officials have said that 5,000 CRPF personnel have also been pressed into search operation on the route over which Reddy was to fly. But search operations have been hampered by bad weather in the area.
The Defence Ministry has also deployed an unmanned aerial vehicle for tracking the Chief Minister.
Andhra Pradesh has also asked the Centre for all-weather helicopters for search operations during the night.
Meanwhile, in a startling revelation a Director General of Civil Aviation report has claimed that Reddy's Bell 430 helicopter was not air worthy. However, Civil Aviation Minister Praful Patel said that the helicopter had an airworthiness certificate and had been declared fit to fly till December 2010.
Andhra Pradesh Finance Minister K Rosaiah said that there has been no information of the Bell 430 helicopter having landed anywhere while addressing a press conference in Hyderabad.
While he expressed hope that the Chief Minister could be safe, state Chief Secretary P Ramakanth Reddy said it could be possible that the helicopter could have landed in an unfamiliar area from where getting out could be difficult.
"So far we have not been able to make any contact. It is possible because of strong winds and inclement weather, it may have landed in an unfamiliar area from where getting out can be difficult. Time we have before sunset is limited and it is raining heavily," he said.
The state government has also appealed to people living in the concerned area to contribute in the search and inform about any sightings to the nearest police station.
Rosaiah appealed to the people in Chittoor, Mehbubnagar, Prakasam and Kurnool districts to provide any information they have on the missing helicopter. Police and forest departments in the area were coordinating the operation.
He said the Prime Minister's Office, Union Home Ministry and Defence Ministry have been monitoring the search operation while the office of Congress President Sonia Gandhi was in touch with the state government.
Home Minister P Chidambaram was personally monitoring the situation.
Civil Aviation Secretary M Madhavan Nambiar said in Delhi that there was no information about the whereabouts of the helicopter.
(With inputs from Shaik Ahmed Ali, Diptosh Majumdar, Suhasini Haider, Veeraraghav TM and PTI)