A Chhattisgarh government AgustaWestland AW 109 helicopter crashed at the Raipur airport on Thursday, May 12 night, killing two pilots, police said.
The incident took place during a flying practice at the Swami Vivekananda Airport in Raipur under Mana police station limits at around 9:10 PM, said Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP) Prashant Agrawal.
Two pilots on board the chopper were seriously injured in the crash and immediately taken to a nearby private hospital where they were declared dead, said the SSP. The deceased were identified as Captian Gopal Krishna Panda and Captain A P Shrivastava, said the police officer.
According to preliminary information, the crew was conducting a night flying training sortie at the airport when the chopper crashed while landing at the rear end of the runway. It was an AgustaWestland 109 helicopter, said sources. Officials said they are assessing if the runway has suffered any damage.
The cause of the crash was not immediately known. A detailed technical investigation on behalf of the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) and the Chhattisgarh Government will be undertaken to ascertain the exact cause.
The black box of the helicopter, which has been retrieved from the wreckage, will also be examined by DGCA experts to determine the sequence of events in the final minutes before the crash. Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel expressed grief over the tragedy and condoled the death of the pilots.
Baghel tweeted, “just got sad news about a state helicopter crashing at the airport in Raipur. In this tragic accident, both our pilots Captain Panda and Captain Shrivastava passed away. May God give strength to their family members and peace to the departed soul.”
The state helicopter was regularly used for VIP movement and travel of senior officers within the state. For the last eight days, senior officials mostly used this chopper during chief minister Bhupesh Baghel’s ongoing mass contact programme in north Chhattisgarh, sources said.
This is the second state-owned helicopter to crash. In July 2007, a chopper crashed on the hills of the Chhattisgarh-Maharashtra border while returning to the state after maintenance in Bhopal. Two pilots, an engineer and a senior technician were on board the ill-fated chopper.
The tail rotor of the helicopter led to the crash
The state chopper that crashed was overhauled twice after it was purchased in 2007. “The twin-engine ‘AW 109 power elite’ was overhauled twice, last in 2017, and the right engine was overhauled once and later was replaced with a new one around a year back,” said Neelam Namdeo Ekka, director, aviation, Chhattisgarh, adding that there were no technical problems in the engine.
A team of the directorate general of civil aviation (DGCA) reached Raipur for investigation even as officials said that there could be a malfunction in the tail rotor of the chopper that led to the crash.
The chopper had reportedly suffered a tail rotor snag due to which it “fell like a rock, straight down” from a significant height. Officials investigating the crash say both the pilots — Captains Gopal Krishna Panda and A P Shrivastava — were highly experienced.
A statement issued by the Chhattisgarh government on Friday said that the said helicopter was acquired from Hong Kong-based company Sharp Ocean Investment Private Limited, an authorised seller of Agusta-Westland Company, Italy, for USD 65.70 million (INR 26.58 crore).
Officials claimed that the same chopper suffered technical glitches three times earlier also. In 2016 and February 2018, technical snags were reported when the then chief minister Raman Singh was flying while in 2016, the then state minister Brijmohan Agrawal, had to make a precautionary landing after an engine snag was found.
However, the Aircraft Accident Investigation Bureau (AAIB) — which conducts probes into serious accidents — is currently not headed by a technical person and an Indian Audit and Accounts Service (IA&AS) officer is its DG. Similarly, the DGCA does not at the moment have a deputy DG (DDG) of air safety. The DDG and AAIB technical heads coordinate for probes into serious accidents.