|The Rudra helicopter, built at Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL), was carrying out a training sortie that involved low-level flying over the lake. Courtesy: HT|
The fate of two Indian Army pilots, one a lieutenant colonel and another a captain, was not known after their Rudra helicopter crashed into the Ranjit Sagar Dam lake near Pathankot on Tuesday, even as search and rescue crews recovered the wreckage of the chopper along with some pilot gear, officials familiar with the development said.
The items recovered by search parties included chopper skids, fuel tanks, stabilizer, helmets and the identity card of one of the two pilots, said one of the officials cited above.
The Rudra helicopter, built at Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL), was carrying out a training sortie that involved low-level flying over the lake, said a second official.
The Rudra–being an army helicopter—didn’t have an emergency flotation gear (EFG) and the crew was unlikely to be wearing life preservers, said commander KP Sanjeev Kumar (retd), a military aviation expert and former experimental test pilot.
“If the helicopter is operating within gliding distance of shore/land, life preservers, EFG and life raft are not mandated. Occasionally, such helicopters may be required to operate over water. That’s ‘risk exposure,’ he said.
The helicopter belonged to the army’s Pathankot-based 254 ALH-WSI squadron, which lost a Rudra chopper in January 2021. Four Rudra helicopters have been involved in mishaps in as many years.
The Rudra is a weaponised version of the indigenously built advanced light helicopter Dhruv. The army operates six Rudra squadrons with 10 helicopters each.
Search and rescue involved specialized divers and Dhruv and Cheetah helicopters. In the evening, a heavy-lift Chinook helicopter also joined the search.
Locals claimed the chopper used to hover over the dam and drop a pipe into the water every day. The moment it dropped the pipe on Tuesday morning, it crashed, they added.
Kathua SSP Ramesh Kotwal said the chopper crashed around 10.45 am. “While deep water divers are on the job, the operation will take time. Police and local boatmen retrieved some floating material from the lake. It will take time to retrieve the entire wreckage. We retrieved two helmets,” he said, adding that the lake was up to 250 feet deep.
“The area where the chopper crashed has been zeroed in. Special Forces of the army, deep water divers are on the job, but the water is not clear,” he said.
Army ambulances, two helicopters, senior army officers and civil administration officials were present on the spot. The dam is located about 30 km from Pathankot.
There are four weapon stations on the Rudra with a turret gun in its nose area. The helicopters are also equipped with air-to-air missiles, 70 mm rockets and 20 mm turret guns. Capable of firing anti-tank guided missiles, it is also equipped with infrared jammers and obstacle avoidance systems.