Itanagar: Backed up by satellite pictures and infrared images taken by Sukhoi-30 planes, the search for the chopper carrying Arunachal Pradesh Chief Minister Dorjee Khandu and four others missing since Saturday narrowed down to a 66 sq km forested area.
As the Pawan Hans helicopter remained untraced for the third day on Monday triggering concerns over the fate of the passengers, Sources in New Delhi said an Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) satellite has taken pictures of several metallic objects spread over a 66 sq km area in West Kameng district.
Ground rescue teams are trying to reach the probable locations of the images near Naga Jiji, which are heavily forested and at a high altitude.
Eastern Air Command Air Officer Commanding-in-Chief Air Marshal K K Nohwar said in Shillong that infrared images taken by two Sukhoi-30 planes detected 'an aircraft-like something' in an area in Bhutan on which the aerial search was focussing.
Border Road Organisation employees, based in Bangaganga camp, have also claimed that they heard the sound of a big explosion from the nearly by forest on Saturday morning, almost the same time when the chopper went missing.
A similar claim was also made by one Deepak Tamang, a Bomdila based driver who was travelling at that time.
The helicopter rpt helicopter carrying Khandu, his security officer Yeshi Choddak, Yeshi Lhamu, sister of Tawang MLA Tsewang Dhondup and pilots Captain J S Babbar and Captain T S Mamik went missing 20 minutes after they took off from Tawang to Itanagar on Saturday morning.
The aerial search has been called off for the day, IAF spokesman Ranjib Sahoo said in Shillong, adding two Mi17 choppers carried out sorties for about three hours from Tawang base in the morning but were subsequently grounded due to bad weather.
"The two Mi17 helicopters began sorties at 6:15 am from Tawang. They were supposed to take off at 5:00 am but were delayed due to the weather," Sahoo said.
"The choppers will resume search operation tomorrow depending on weather conditions," Tezpur-based Defence Spokesman Colonel N N Joshi said.
"Tomorrow, if the weather permits, six helicopters will conduct the aerial search. Two Mi17s from Tawang, two Cheetah helicopters from Tezpur and two Chetak helicopters from Guwahati are being planned pressed into service at 5:00 am tomorrow," Sahoo said.
Helicopters from Guwahati and Tezpur could not take off due to weather so far, he said.
Col Joshi said search and rescue operations began today at the crack of dawn with the strength of the forces increased.
There were at present 35 columns involved in search operations. Of these, 26 columns were from the Army and nine of the ITBP and SSB combined, he added.
The operations during the day were narrowed down to three locations on Indo-Bhutan border.