The pilots of the Chetak helicopter, Major Atul Garje and Captain Bhanu Pratap Gupta, the former a qualified flight instructor, died in the crash which took place around 9am in Nashik.
``The two steered the helicopter away from a densely populated area towards a vacant plot to land after detecting a technical fault in the chopper`s rotor blades. The blades hit the terrace of a bungalow while going down in an open area,`` said an Army officer.
The bodies of the two officers, who were to fly from Nashik to Goa, were later extricated from the mangled remains of the helicopter by fire brigade and Army personnel. Major Garje, who was from Ahmednagar and an alumni of Sainik School in Satara, had a daughter a few months ago. They were to fly to Bangalore for the Aero-India show that kicks off next week, an Army source said. The Army ordered a court of inquiry into the mishap.
The chopper crashed beside the house of Bhagwan Patil (57), an employee of Nashik Currency Note Press (CNP). ``I am told a rotor blade stopped moving mid-air and the aircraft hit the terrace of my ground floor home before crashing to the ground," said Patil whose house was damaged. ``My wife Meera, a schoolteacher, had left in the morning. I got home only after my neighbour rang and informed me about the accident,`` Patil told TOI. He said when he arrived home, the bodies of two pilots were being taken out on stretchers.
Patil said his house was locked and he had to open it after Army officers asked him to do so for a police panchnama and further probe. ``We had to use hydraulic cutters to retrieve the bodies from the debris,`` said a fire brigade officer. A team of Army`s rescue operation aided operations.
In 2006, an Army helicopter had crashed close to the Combat Aviation Training Centre in Nashik. It killed three personnel, while an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) had gone down in a civilian area at Vadner on Pathardi-Delvali Road in 2010, with no casualty.
The Cheetah and Chetak light-utility helicopters, based on the design of French ``Alouettes`` and ``Lama SA-315``, were inducted in the 1970s. Around 250 of these were built under licence by Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd until the 1980s. They are in use in forward locations, including Ladakh and Kashmir, and for ``patrol and reconnaissances`` along the LoC.
The defence ministry is now looking to import 197 ``light utility`` helicopters to replace the Cheetahs and Chetaks for high-altitude and other operations.
As reported by TOI earlier, after a major dip in the crash rate around 2003-2006, military aircraft and helicopters have once again begun to go down with alarming regularity. In the last three years, the armed forces have recorded over 65 crashes, which have killed almost 60 military personnel and five civilians.
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