Technology has failed us yet again when we needed it the most.
First, the Bell 430 helicopter (chopper) carrying Andhra Pradesh chief minister Dr. Y S Rajashekhar Reddy (popularly known as YSR) and four of his aides went missing in the dense Nallamala forest region in Andhra Pradesh. The Chief Minister (CM) known for his popular welfare schemes in India, and especially his home state, was on his way to launch yet another public welfare program in Anuppalle, a village in Chitthoor district which is south of Andhra Pradesh state. (The district of Chittoor is more popularly known for being the home of the famous Tirumala temple.)
The region has experienced heavy rains over the past fews days and in all likeliness, the dense forest region where it crashed had zero visibility.
Having informed the senior district officials of his planned surprise visit just a few hours in advance early in the morning on Wednesday, YSR got aboard the ill fated chopper which took off at 8.38 AM from Begumpet airport in Hyderabad for a 500 KM flight. Within less than an hour following the take off and soon after entering the forest range, the helicopter mysteriously lost contact with the Air Traffic Control (ATC). To add to the mystery, and oddly enough the chopper carrying the chief minister of a state did not have a satellite phone on board and even worse, the Emergency Locator Transmitter failed as well.
(But not surprisingly enough) The state machinery took a few hours to realize that the CM is missing and launched a massive hunt involving multiple agencies from the state and the center (federal) government to search for the missing CM and his aides in the desolate terrain and naxalite (extremist) infested forest. By Wednesday evening, the search and rescue mission expanded into what is now known as India’s massive search operation ever. In addition to thousands of civilians (including tribals from that region), military, para military forces and highly trained commandos on ground, the mission also involved multiple so-called technology marvels; satellites, remote sensing aircraft, topline Sukhoi 30 MKI with thermal imaging capabilities, Dornier, Avro reconnaissance aircrafts and fighter jets. (Not to mention the multiple private choppers and other private services and agencies.)
In the capital city of New Delhi, India’s political center, there was a flurry of activity and the central home ministry pressed all the emergency procedures and resources into service.
But none could produce any results even by late Wednesday night. Not even the the highly hopeful special aircraft from the National Remote Sensing Agency (NRSA). The only saving grace next day morning happened to be a simple SMS sent to the Chief Security Officer’s phone who was accompanying the CM. While there wasn’t any response to the SMS, it at least seemed to have helped the search teams narrow down their efforts to a 5 km radius on early Thursday morning. Incidentally, it was not really a SMS but the fact that when the mobile phone goes out of the network, the closest tower registers a signal and that is what seems to have helped in this case. Finally, an Air Force team led by Air Commodore Sagar Bharti of the Bangalore air command spotted the Bell 430 helicopter atop a hill 40 nautical miles east of Kurnool.
However the ray of hope soon ended on a tragic note, with the paratroopers and commandos who were air dropped at the location discovering five charred and mangled bodies near the crash site, which was on the the Rudrakonda hills (near Srisailam) in Kurnool district.
Without a question, this turned out to be an extremely unfortunate incident and a costly lesson with lot of takeaways from it.
Either “our” Technology still has a long way to go or the Administrators are from stone age.
May the beloved Chief Minister Dr. YSR and his aides rest in peace. Amen.