19 people, including Air Force and para-military personnel, were today feared killed when a sophisticated IAF helicopter crashed in bad weather near Gaurikund in Uttarakhand during rescue operations.
Vice Chairman of National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) M Sashidhar Reddy said eight bodies have been recovered and chances of any survivor among the 19 onboard were remote.
"There were 19 people onboard including NDRF, ITBP and IAF personnel. Eight bodies have been recovered," he told PTI.
An IAF spokesperson said in Delhi, "One Mi-17 V5 chopper on a rescue mission from Gauchar to Guptkashi and Kedarnath while returning from Kedarnath crashed north of Gaurikund."
Among those killed were three IAF officers, she said, adding that eight people died in the mishap.
Rudraprayag SP Varinderjeet Singh said the cause of the crash is not immediately known but chances are high that the mishap occurred due to bad weather.
A senior Air Force officer in Gauchar said the ill-fated Mi-17 chopper had made two sorties to the Kedarnath area since this morning and was on its third sortie when it crashed.
The crash occurred in "difficult" weather conditions created by rains and fog, he said.
The chopper belonged to a unit from Barrackpore Air Force Station in West Bengal under the Eastern Air Command.
A Court of Inquiry has been order to investigate the crash, the spokesperson said.
The IAF said its operations in the area will continue.
IAF had started inducting Mi-17 V5 choppers only last year after 80 of them were ordered from Russia.
This is the second incident of a helicopter crash this week in the hill state.
A private helicopter carrying relief materials for the rain-affected people in Rudraprayag district had crashed on Sunday near Gaurikund leaving the pilot injured.
Air Force officials said eight bodies have been recovered from the crash site by the Garud Commandos of the IAF.
They said the chopper had taken off at 12.30 PM from Kedarnath area and crashed within five to seven minutes.
Defence Minister A K Antony has expressed anguish over the crash.
A pall of gloom descended at the helipad here after reports of the crash reached.
IAF, Army and ITBP officers went into a huddle at a tent erected by the Air Force for controlling its operations.
Senior officials of the agencies involved in the rescue operations also rushed to the helipad.
IAF officers were seen making anxious calls over their cellphones and restricted frequency equipment to finetune the operations and gather details of the crash.
Presence of local police officials has been beefed up in the area after the mishap.