HYDERABAD, India – More than 2,000 security forces backed by six army helicopters and Sukhoi jets were deployed for the search of missing Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Y.S. Rajshekhar Reddy after a helicopter he was in disappeared in heavy rains Wednesday as it flew over a forested region infested with Maoist rebels.
“There is no good news yet,” federal Home Minister P. Chidambaram said in New Delhi in a late night preifing briefing. “We are keeping our fingers crossed. Our prayers are with Rajasekhara Reddy and his family,” he told reporters around sunset, more than nine hours after the helicopter lost the contact with the ATC at 9:35 AM.
The search operations by helicopters in the dense Nallamalla forest about 275 km south of the capital, Hyderabad were called off after sunset because of light and weather conditions and will resume Thursday morning, Chidambaram said. However, local villagers were provided with torches and other equipment to help in the night search.
The seven-seater Bell helicopter had taken off at 8.45 A.M. local time from Hyderabadand lost contact with air traffic controllers about 45 minutes into the flight, said Andhra Pradesh Finance Minister K. Rosiah. At the time, it was flying at a height of about 1.25 km from the ground and was 140 km away from Hyderabad, the Directorate General of Civil Aviation said.
The chopper was scheduled to land in Chittoor at 10.40 A.M..
Reddy, 60. who was on an inspection tour of various rural social welfare programs, was accompanied by a bodyguard, two officials and a photographer, reports said.
Officials said bad weather might have forced the pilot to take a detour and fly over the Nallamala forests that span the districts of Kurnool, Prakasam and Kadapa, and are considered to have presence of Maoist rebels.
The Maoist or Naxalite rebels, who say they are inspired by Chinese revolutionary leader Mao Zedong, have been fighting for more than three decades in several Indian states, including Andhra Pradesh, demanding land and jobs for agricultural laborers and the poor.
Prayers were held across the state for Reddy, a Congress Party leader, who has sustained his popularity in the state with a wide array of subsidy and welfare plans for the poor. – Agencies