- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 3, 2009


HYDERABAD, India (AP) — Rescuers retrieved the bodies Thursday of a powerful Indian politician and four others whose helicopter crashed in dense jungles during a pounding rainstorm.

The helicopter carrying Andhra Pradesh state Chief Minister Y.S.R. Reddy lost contact with air traffic controllers Wednesday morning, setting off a frantic 24-hour search operation involving the army, air force and police in a stronghold of Maoist rebels.

On Thursday morning, air force helicopters found the crash site by tracking a mobile phone signal picked up after an SMS was sent at midday Wednesday to Reddy’s bodyguard, who was also on the helicopter, Press Trust of India news agency reported, quoting an unidentified government official. It was not clear why the signal coordinates had not been traced the day before.

Rescuers finally reached the scene after hacking through hilly jungle. They found the mangled remains of the chopper and charred bodies of all five people on board. Reddy, 60, was accompanied by the bodyguard, an aide and two pilots.

The bodies were flown to the Andhra Pradesh capital, Hyderabad, and a state funeral was planned for Friday, Home Minister P. Chidambaram said.

Officials have yet to establish the cause, but say the privately owned chopper likely crashed because of bad weather. It lost contact with air traffic controllers about 45 minutes into the flight after taking off from Hyderabad.

“We are in deep mourning. We have a deep sense of grief, shock and loss at the passing away of the chief minister, and a tall leader of the Congress Party,” Chidambaram told reporters in New Delhi, referring to the ruling party.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh praised the regional leader’s commitment to the people of Andhra Pradesh, and his Cabinet described Reddy as “an eminent political leader, a farsighted statesman and an astute administrator.”

Congress Party chief Sonia Gandhi said Reddy was a “man of vision and dynamism.”

A devout Christian in Hindu-majority India, Reddy worked his way into the Congress leadership over the past three decades by taking up the cause of poor farmers and landless laborers. He won a second term in office in May elections.

The ill-fated helicopter trip was to survey drought conditions in remote parts of Andhra Pradesh.

The wreckage was found 5 miles (8 kilometers) from the nearest village and about 170 miles (275 kilometers) south of Hyderabad.

Investigators have begun examining the helicopter wreckage to determine the cause of the crash.

Indian officials ruled out the possibility of guerrilla involvement. “There is no hand of the rebels,” junior minister for defense, M.M. Pallam Raju, told reporters.

The Maoist rebels, who say they are inspired by Chinese revolutionary leader Mao Zedong, have been fighting for more than three decades in several Indian states, including Andhra Pradesh, demanding land and jobs for agricultural laborers and the poor. More than 6,500 people have been killed in the violence.

While the militants have a great deal of power in parts of rural India, they have little day-to-day control outside of isolated forests and villages.

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