A Pawan Hans helicopter with two pilots onboard crashed into the Arabian sea off the Mumbai coast shortly after taking off from an ONGC installation in the Mumbai high field on Wednesday evening, defence sources said.
The pilots -- Pilot E Samuel and co-pilot Tarun Kumar Guha -- are missing and Coast Guard and ONGC have pressed their vessels into service to locate them.
The 11-seater Medivac chopper was on its last sortie of the day from a platform on the Bombay High south oil and gas field about 160 KM off the coast.
"We don't know the reason for that," ONGC Director Offshore T K Sengupta. The chopper was not on any crew duty and was on it's routine night landing practice and so there were no passengers on board. "The chopper was on a standby duty and had taken off as part of its last sortie," he said, adding the reasons for the crash are not yet known.
ONGC hires Pawan Hans helicopters to ferry its officials from Mumbai to its offshore oilfield. "The pilots on the board are still missing. We don't know their whereabouts," Sengupta said. Samuel, one of the seniormost pilots in Pawan Hans, was set to retire soon, according to sources.
As per DGCA guidelines, all pilots have to conduct night landing checks for certan hours, which Pawans Hans team was conducting when they crashed. As per Juhu Air Traffic Control (ATC) record, the tower shut down at 7.15 pm on Wednesday since there is no night duty at Juhu. Tragically, this means there are no records available with the ATC.
In order to augment the search, a night capable helicopter Seaking C is being launched, while a second helicopter will be placed on standby, a defence spokesman said.
Confirming the crash, Defence CPRO Rahul Sinha, in a statement, said, "Pawan Hans helicopter crashed at around 80 nautical miles, west-north-west of south Mumbai at about 7:30 PM today. Navy has launched search and rescue ops and two immediate support vessels (ISVS T50 and T48) have reached the area. One destroyer, INS Mumbai with integral helicopter will reach the area post midnight. As per information available with the Navy, the helicopter was carrying out night landing practice with only two pilots on board when it crashed and sank. There were no passangers on board."
Sanjay Kumar, General Manager, Western Region, explained that the chopper -- Dauphin 93 with registration
VT PWF -- was manufactured in 2011. It was registered in 2012, Kumar added.
According to top officials, the chopper took off at 7.12pm and went missing 8 minutes later.
"This chopper took off from platform called WIS and was to land at platform called ECO ECO."
Two Pawan Hans helicopters along with two other helicopters from Navy and Coastguard each with three ships are on a search operation.
No oil and gas installation was damaged in the accident.
(With PTI inputs)