Pawan Hans crash: Pilots say chopper caught fire, DGCA junks their theory

While pilots say they saw some sparks, DGCA says that it could have been caused when blades came in contact with water

After failing to recover the wreckage and trace the two-member flying crew of a crashed Pawan Hans chopper on Wednesday night, the search for the Dauphin chopper has been intensified.

Pilot E Samuel (left) and co-pilot T K Guha
Pilot E Samuel (left) and co-pilot T K Guha

Currently, four naval ships, three Coast Guard ships and eight ONGC support vessels are scanning the area — 80 nautical miles off Bombay High — where the Coast Guard first spotted a door panel belonging to the chopper that had crashed into Arabian Sea on Wednesday evening.

Speaking to mid-day, a few pilots who were present at the nearby platform on the day of the mishap claimed the Dauphin chopper caught fire before ditching into the sea. They also stated that the location of the crash site is a shark hotspot.

A pilot said, “There were a few sparks observed from the chopper. And that’s the only thing we saw because it was pitch black. Based on this observation, we drew a conclusion that the chopper caught fire.”

‘It’s rubbish’
Debunking the claims made by the pilots, a member of the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) team investigating the mishap said, “Based on the CCTV footage we scrutinised, it can be concluded that the chopper didn’t catch fire. It was a four-tonne chopper.

Whenever such a huge object ditches into the sea, its rotary blades produce sparks after coming in contact with the seawater. This happens due to the excessive friction. But this doesn’t mean that the helicopter caught fire.”

Another team member stated that there was a possibility that the flying crew — pilot E Samuel and co-pilot T K Guha — never got the opportunity to unlock their seatbelts and escape because everything happened so suddenly. “Survival chances of anybody falling in to the sea is not more than 30 minutes,” said a senior DGCA official close to the case.

The team said it was now counting on the Underwater Locater Beacon (ULB) to trace the wreckage. Explaining the function of a ULB, a DGCA official said, “The area where the chopper crashed has soft mud. There is a possibility of mud covering the wreckage. In such cases, soft mud acts as a barrier and hampers the detection ability of a ULB.”

Ping of hope
Commenting on the developments, a Pawan Hans official said, “A ULB emits a ping if the wreckage is within its range of a kilometre. In this case, the area of wreckage has been located because the ULB is pinging in the same area.

The moment it is shifted from the suspected crash site, it goes silent. Though divers are searching for the wreckage, their efforts have remained futile.”

Expert speak
Shankar Gajbhiye, retired scientist from National Institute of Oceanography, said, “Though the possibilities of sharks can’t be ruled out, I’m positive that the pilots are still underwater. Also, there is a cyclone towards Yemen. Whenever there is any kind of turbulence in the Arabian Sea, the entire oceanographic system gets affected. The water flows in multiple directions, as the sea isn’t calm. Since search and rescue ships move in one direction, it limits the search area.”

Official speak
“An Emergency Underwater Transmitter (ELT), signal has been intercepted. This is being used as the datum (last position of the crashed helicopter). Search for underwater debris and fuselage using side scan SONAR equipment commenced with one Indian Naval ship joining the search. A second Naval ship will join the underwater search in the night,” said Defence CPRO Commander Rahul Sinha.

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