Low-flying chopper pilot, French press photographer held at Kumbh

Charges were slapped on a helicopter pilot, and the French photo-journalist he was flying, who had hovered dangerously low over the pilgrims at the Kumbh Mela here, police officials said yesterday. The two have been detained and are being questioned.

The case was filed against private chopper pilot and the French media person for criminal negligence and breaching the Official Secrets Act on their flight on Mauni Amavasya (Sunday) “dangerously close” to the people on the Sangam, the confluence of the Ganga, the Yamuna and the mythical Saraswati.

Mass departure: Devotees walk past a pile of trash while returning from the river after taking a holy dip at the Sangam at sunrise during the Maha Kumbh festival in Allahabad yesterday. Pic/AFP

In a bid to capture close shots of the people bathing in the river, the pilot was reportedly forced by the French cameraman to fly so low that the turbulence caused by the rotors of the helicopter turned upside down some boats of the 'Jal Police' (river police) deployed at the spot, an official said.

Confirming the incident, Allahabad’s Inspector General of Police Alok Sharma said a case under sections 336/337 of the IPC and 3/7 of the Official Secrets Act was lodged against the pilot at the Sangam police station. The case was lodged under instructions from Divisional Commissioner Devesh Chaturvedi.

“I was told by some local media persons covering the bathing on Mauni Amavasya that a chopper was flying at a very low height and caused panic among the people present on the ghats,” Chaturvedi said.

Messages were sent to police and aviation officials concerned to ground the chopper immediately. Detained by the local police, the two have refused to speak to the cops, and the French journalist has reportedly sought a lawyer. His camera and other equipment have been confiscated and his papers “were being screened” to check his antecedents, said Kumbh Mela spokesman Ashok Sharma.

Over 30 million people took a holy dip on Sunday on Mauni Amavasya. On way back to their homes, a stampede left 36 pilgrims dead at the Allahabad railway station.   

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