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Tuesday, June 25, 2013

IAF copter carrying 20 crashes near Gaurikund; 8 bodies found

7,000 still stranded as landslides, rain hamper rescue; toll 822

Gauchar, June 25
An Mi-17 V5 helicopter of the Indian Air Force crashed near Gaurikund this evening killing eight persons, including five IAF personnel and pilots. The helicopter was returning from Kedarnath after dropping supplies. The toll may rise to 20 as the helicopter was carrying ITBP and NDRF men.

Elsewhere, fresh landslides, cloudbursts coupled with torrential rains hampered rescue operations as the death toll in the June-16 flood rose to 822 with 142 bodies being found, including 127 in Kedarnath. Around 7,000 people still remained stranded in Uttarakhand.

Further, mass cremation of hundreds of bodies was delayed amid fears of disease outbreak. Rescuers battled rains to evacuate 1,000 people.

The IAF helicopter crashed around 4.30 pm north of Gaurikund amid poor visibility.

National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) vice-chairman M Sashidhar Reddy said eight bodies had been recovered, and that chances of finding any survivors were remote.

The IAF in a statement said five of its personnel were killed. ITBP Director General Ajay Chadha told the TNS: “We have been told that six ITBP men and nine NDRF personnel were on board.”

The helicopter was tasked with dropping firewood for mass cremation. The helicopter was part of a fleet of 80 ordered from Russia in 2008 at a cost of $1.3 billion (Rs 6,500 crore). The first induction was done in February 2012.

“IAF’s rescue operations (in Uttarakhand) will continue,” the IAF statement said. A court of inquiry has been ordered to investigate the cause of the accident.

The IAF flew fewer sorties today and evacuated around 500 people, including 120 from Badrinath, as rescue operations were disrupted by cloudbursts and rain.

The 500 people rescued earlier from the Himalayan shrine were brought down safely to Joshimath by road, a distance of 44 km.

Chief Secretary Subhash Kumar told mediapersons in Dehradun that IAF helicopters rescued 120 people from Badrinath and 327 from Harsil. At least 127 more bodies were recovered since yesterday from the Kedarnath area. Fifteen corpses were found floating in the Ganga in different districts of Uttar Pradesh, including Muzaffarnagar, Bulandshahr and Bijnore, taking the toll in the tragedy to 822, officials said.

The IAF, Army and Uttarakhand administration launched an operation to transport firewood and fuel for the last rites of those killed in the Kedarnath valley.

Agencies undertaking relief and rescue operations have expressed concerns over imminent spread of disease as bodies continue to rot in the temple town area 10 days after the tragedy.

Truckloads of dry wood and ghee have been dispatched to Kedarnath and efforts were on to conduct mass cremation of bodies after their identification, postmortem and DNA preservation formalities, a senior police official said.

State Director General of Police Satyabrat Bansal said the DNA of unidentified bodies was being preserved and they hoped the weather cleared tomorrow to facilitate the cremation.

“No survivors remain in the jungles around Kedarnath. They have all been brought out,” Ravinath Raman, nodal officer of rescue operations in Rudraprayag district, said in Guptkashi.

With rain hampering rescue operations in the morning from Badrinath, Chief Minister Vijay Bahuguna appealed to their relatives not to run out of patience, saying they were safe.

In Patna, Union Home Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde said he had asked the Uttarakhand Government not to allow any VIP to land in the flood-ravaged areas to avoid any disturbance to relief work.

The ITBP today decided to send in a fresh contingent of troops and bring out those tired and exhausted. The paramilitary force, according to sources, is replacing around 45 men with an equal strength in Kedarnath, Badrinath, Harsil and Gaurikund areas.

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