Helicopter crash near Vaishno Devi temple: 6 pilgrims and woman pilot dead in Katra chopper tragedy

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Updated: November 24, 2015 11:16:30 AM

Helicopter crash near Vaishno Devi shrine: Seven people including the pilot and a newly-wed couple were killed when a chopper ferrying them back from the over 700-year-old Vaishno Devi Shrine crashed in Katra after catching fire...

Helicopter crash near Vaishno Devi shrine: Seven people including the pilot and a newly-wed couple were killed when a chopper ferrying them back from the over 700-year-old Vaishno Devi Shrine crashed in Katra after catching fire following a suspected bird hit, in the first fatal plane accident in this holy town.

The 2010-make chopper of private airliner Himalayan Heli service, which was carrying six pilgrims from Sanjichat helipad in Trikuta hills near Vaishno Devi temple, crashed at the new bus stand area in Katra, IGP Jammu, Danish Rana told PTI.

In the crash, seven persons including a woman pilot were killed, DIG Udhampur-Reasi Range, Surinder Gupta said.

Governor N N Vohra    said according to preliminary investigation, “a vulture had hit the chopper”. He said DGCA has instituted an inquiry which will probe reasons for the crash.

Jammu and Kashmir Deputy Chief Minister Nirmal Singh, who rushed to the accident site, said,”As per initial information, a bird got caught in the tail rotor as a result of which it stopped functioning. Finding the area below populated, the woman pilot chose a safe landing area at the new bus stand to avoid casualties on the ground.

“As the helicopter was descending, its rotors got entwined in electrical wires and caught fire,” he said.

He said arrangements are being made to send the bodies to Jammu and Delhi.

The Aircraft Accident Investigating Bureau is probing the accident and a two-member team has been sent to the accident site.

The Vaishno Devi temple is located at a height of 5,300 feet on the Trikuta Hills. Katra town is 50 Kms away from Jammu. Nearly one crore visit the shrine every year, most of the trek the 13 km distance.

There are 100 two-way flights a day to Katra to a place near the Vaishno Devi temple and back and about 1000 people use the helicopter service daily. Two planes of the Himalayan Heli service and choppers of Global Victra operate on this route, Additional CEO of Shri Mata Vaishno Devi Shrine Board Ajit Kumar Sahu said.

He said the passengers have a 25 lakh insurance cover. In addition the Vaishno Devi Shrine Board has announced ex-gratia of Rs 3 lakh for each of those killed including the pilot.

“The next of kin of every passenger shall be given Rs 28 lakh,” Sahu said while expressing condolence to the bereaved families.

A separate magisterial probe has been ordered by the J and K government into the accident. Reasi District Magistrate Sushma Chauhan will head the probe, the Deputy CM said after holding a meeting of top officials here.

Wanhchuk Shamshu, director of the Himalayan Heli service, ruled out bad weather being a cause for the helicopter accident. “Today, the weather was fine and hence not an issue”.

“It is up to the the regulatory authority to find out as to what exactly happened. Thereafter, if there are any misgivings on the part of the operator or anyone else, corrective measures will be taken,” he said.

Jammu and Kashmir National Conference President Dr Farooq Abdullah and former chief minister Omar Abdullah expressed grief over the loss of lives in the “most tragic incident”.

The two leaders also conveyed their condolences to the bereaved families.

Chopper crash: Celebrations turn into mourning for Chib family

The Chib family residing in the Gho Manasa area in the outskirts of Jammu city were in celebratory mood after the wedding of their only son but all this turned into a pall of gloom today as three members of the family including the newlyweds were among the seven killed in the helicopter crash near Vaishno Devi temple in Katra.

Little did the family, knew that the celebratory mood of their only son Arjun Singh Chib’s (25) wedding with Vandana (22) on November 18 would turn into mourning, after the newlywed couple along with their cousin lost their lives in the tragic helicopter.

Three members of the family – Arjun Singh Chib, his newlywed wife Vandana and cousin Mahesh were amongst the seven pilgrims who lost their lives in the crash.

“The two (Arjun and Vandana) got married on November 18. The family had given a grand reception on November 19 as it was the wedding of their only son. Today morning the newlywed couple left to pay their obeisance at the holy cave shrine of Mata Vaishno Devi”, Preetam Singh Chib a close relative said.

He said Arjun who worked in the Indian Air Force, along with his newlywed wife Vandana and his cousin Mahesh had left to pay their obeisance to the cave shine of Mata Vaishno Devi early this morning and had booked seats in the ill-fated helicopter.

“The family was in celebratory mood as a large number of the relatives who had come to attend the wedding were still staying with the family, his uncles, cousins all were present in the home today, when the tragic news reached them”, Preetam said.

He said that the family first saw the news about the helicopter crash on television after which they received a phone call from the police informing them that their son and his wife and the cousin were killed in the helicopter crash.

A pall of gloom descended the village soon after the news of the death of the newlywed couple reached Gho Manasa, village and relatives in large number started to throng the house of the deceased to express their condolences.

“We don’t know how to react, we all are shell-shocked, till last night we all were here celebrating and dancing on the wedding of Arjun and in less than 12 hours we are here again to mourn his death”, Kulbir Singh a local resident said.

He said that the family was in shock and the parents of the Vandana who lived a few kilometres away too have arrived after they got the news about the death of their daughter and son in law in the tragic incident.

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