5 dead in Pawan Hans chopper tragedy, search for two more members on board underway

Jan 14, 2018, 08:50 IST | Vinod Kumar Menon

Ill-fated helicopter with 5 ONGC staff and 2 pilots crashed off Mumbai coast minutes after control rooms changed

Rescue operations underway on Saturday afternoon near the wreckage site off the Mumbai coast. Pics/Courtesy: Indian Coast Guard (Western Region)
Rescue operations underway on Saturday afternoon near the wreckage site off the Mumbai coast. Pics/Courtesy: Indian Coast Guard (Western Region)

"Handing over to ONGC radio" was the last recorded message between the Air Traffic Control (ATC), Juhu aerodrome and pilots of the ill-fated Pawan Hans helicopter, which crashed into the Arabian Sea last morning. There were five senior ONGC officials and two pilots in the helicopter. Till late evening, five bodies had been fished out from the spot where the helicopter had crashed. A senior Coast Guard official said, "The bodies are yet to be identified. Our search for the remaining two people on board is underway."

Sources attached to the ATC told mid-day that the pilots had taken off around 10.20 am and the communication was normal till the helicopter reached the spot of handing over - from one control room to the other, in this case Juhu ATC to the ONGC control room - around 25-30 nautical miles en route to the offshore rig of the ONGC northern field at Bombay High.

ID cards of ONGC staff VK Babu
ID cards of ONGC staff VK Babu

Minutes after the handing over, the helicopter went missing from the ONGC off shore radar. The ONGC control room immediately sent a distress alert. Apart from ONGC speedboats, the Coast Guard patrol vessel Agrim, along with a few navy vessels and two choppers, were pressed into the search operation. The five bodies have been kept on board Agrim. "Once the operation is called off, Agrim will return to the base and the bodies will be handed over to the authorities. We have found two identity cards on the bodies, but the families have to identify the deceased," a Coast Guard official added.

Pankaj Garg recovered from crash site
Pankaj Garg recovered from crash site

The pilots have been identified as Captain VC Katoch, a seasoned pilot, who served with Pawan Hans for over a decade and Captain Ramesh Oathkar, a civilian pilot, who was working with Pawan Hans for over two decades. Both pilots are residents of Pawan Hans Officers quarters in Juhu. The five ONGC staff, who were all deputy general managers with the company, have been identified as VK Babu, Pankaj Garg, Jose Anthony, P Shrinivasan and Sarvannan.

When contacted, Mahaveer Tiwatne, senior police inspector, said, "We will be registering an accidental death report under Section 174 of the Criminal Procedure Code after the bodies are brought to the shore. The bodies will be sent to JJ hospital for an autopsy." "Prima facie, the accident appears to have been the result of some technical glitch, while shifting gears. The exact reason for the accident will be known only once the Aircraft Accident Investigation Bureau (AAIB) complete their probe and the search team finds the black box," a pilot with Pawan Hans said.

Dr BP Sharma, chairman and managing director of Pawan Hans flew down to Mumbai from Noida, following the accident. "We had procured the helicopter from Airbus in 2010. The incident is unfortunate," he said. Meanwhile, sources said that the Pawan Hans Pilots Guild would be taking up the issue of the spate of accidents over the last decade, with the management soon.

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