Investigators found a clump of flesh, hair near Pawan Hans co-pilot's seat and have sent it Kalina's FSL for DNA testing; the rescue operation for Captain E Samuel was called off yesterday
Over two weeks into the search for the missing pilot of the Pawan Hans chopper that crashed into the Arabian Sea, investigators found a clump of flesh and hair stuck from the recovered wreckage. The tissue sample will now be put through forensic tests, including one to see whether it matches with the pilot’s daughter’s DNA. The rescue operation for him was also called off yesterday.
The flesh and hair were discovered near the co-pilot’s seat in the wreckage that was fished out of the sea on November 9.
Investigators found the flesh near the co-pilot’s seat in the wreckage, giving rise to speculation that it might belong to the missing Captain E Samuel. Although he was the pilot, Samuel was seated in the co-pilot’s chair while training Captain TK Guha in night landing. Co-pilot Guha’s body had been found earlier, on November 9, in the cockpit of the wrecked chopper.
In the meanwhile, other investigations have also revealed that the helicopter was flying at an alarmingly high speed, which may have resulted in the crash as it turned for landing. While the Coast Guard and the Oil and Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC) both have radar systems, the Coast Guard’s special transmitter picked up on the chopper’s last position before the crash, and also the speed at which it crashed.
“We have a transmitter called Automated Identification System (AIS), which studies various parameters like location, height and speed of a helicopter. In this case, the helicopter was last seen 500 metres away from the unmanned platform on which it was to land,” explained a Coast Guard official.
According to this data, the Dauphin aircraft (registered as VT PWF) crashed at the speed of 120 knots (approximately 220 kmph). The AIS relay indicates that the chopper was at first flying at 70 knots, which is the norm, but then quickly progressed to 90 knots, finally hitting 120 knots as it turned and ditched to land on the ECO ECO platform belonging to the ONGC.
This is also confirmed by the CCTV footage viewed by the investigating team from the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA). “The aircraft’s beacon could be seen as it approached the unmanned platform. But instead of landing, the helicopter went around. It was while negotiating a turn that the chopper just disappeared,” said a senior ONGC official, adding that the team had arrived in Mumbai on Tuesday so it can continue the probe faster here, instead of in New Delhi.
Aviation expert Dr Vipul Saxena told mid-day, “The state of the wreckage indicates that the helicopter fell into the water at high speed, causing severe impact on the structure. This also indicates that the pilots didn’t get time to carry out controlled ditching, which could have saved their lives. The helicopter’s speed, as per the AIS, is too high for a chopper that had just taken off; this could have been a major cause for this accident to be fatal.”
To put this into context: the chopper had taken off from the WSI platform around 7.15 pm and was to land at the unmanned ECO ECO platform, which is barely five to seven minutes away (by air). However, the aircraft disappeared around 7.20 pm.
The wreckage was taken to the Yellow Gate police station on November 9, along with Captain Guha’s body. A day after his family performed the last rites, Captain Samuel’s family was taken to see the wreckage after it was transferred to the Pawan Hans office. Sources said the family members, who had hoped to find Captain Samuel, were shattered upon seeing the wrecked chopper.
When the Aircraft Accident Investigation Bureau (AAIB) began to inspect the wreckage, officials found the flesh and hair near the co-pilot’s seat and immediately sent it to the Yellow Gate police station.
Speaking to mid-day, Senior Police Inspector Balkrishna Gurav of Yellow Gate police station said, “The flesh and hair have been sent to Kalina’s forensic laboratory for DNA testing. We first need to get a clear picture if the flesh belongs to a human or a marine animal. A blood sample of Samuel’s daughter has been also taken for further investigations. The reports are awaited.”