Andhra CM, four others killed in chopper crash

Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Y S Rajasekhara Reddy and four others were killed when their helicopter crashed on a hillock, about 49 nautical miles east of Kurnool, more than an hour it took off from Hyderabad on Wednesday.

The charred bodies and the wreckage of the twin-engined Bell 430 helicopter were located at 8.30 AM today on a hillock, eight kms from Kurnool, 23 hours after it went missing while flying to Chittoor in south Andhra Pradesh.

"With very deep sense of regret we have to announce the death of YS Rajashekhar Reddy. He was a tall leader and it is a big loss to the country," Union Home Minister P Chidambaram told reporters in Delhi.

The helicopter appeared to have hit a tree, crashed and perhaps exploded. The bodies were charred and were in a state of getting decomposed because of incessant rain in the area yesterday, Andhra Pradesh Chief Secretary Ramakanth Reddy said here.

The Congress Core Group met at the residence of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in Delhi and indications were that senior minister K Rosaiah will be the Acting Chief Minister before a decision on successor to Reddy is taken.

Reddy's funeral is expected to take place in his hometown in Pulivendala in Kadappa district in southern Andhra Pradesh tomorrow.

Others who died in the crash were Special Secretary P Subramanyam, Chief Secretary A S C Wesley, pilot Group Captain S K Bhatia and co-pilot M S Reddy.

The wreckage of the helicopter was strewn in bits and pieces all over the area in the hillock, Ramakanth Reddy said adding the tail piece is in tact.

The bodies were still lying at the crash spot and efforts were being made by the IAF to bring them either to Kurnool or Hyderabad. He said it will take some time for the operation to end before the bodies are brought out of the hills.

While three bodies were quickly recovered from near the wreckage, one was found a little away and it took some time to trace the fifth, Reddy said.

While the reasons for the crash were not known immediately, Chidambaram said the helicopter, which was going south towards Chittoor, had changed direction eastwards after crossing Kurnool towards Atmakur.

It crashed on a hillock between two villages, one of which is Velugodu.

"The wreckage was found by Air Force helicopters at 0830 hours on a hillock which 8 to 9 km from Atmakur between two villages one of which is Velugodu," Chidambaram said.

Reddy's body will be kept in Lal Bahadur Stadium here to enable public to pay their last respects and would be taken to Pulivendla in the afternoon.

A meeting of the Union Cabinet, scheduled this morning, was cancelled as the sad news trickled in.

Several state governments declared mourning and parties also flew their flags half mast as a mark of condolence. Chidambaram said the government was in a state of deep mourning and there was a sense of grief, shock and loss at the passing away of the Chief Minister.

"We share our grief and tender condolences to the family of the Chief Minister and others who passed away in the crash," he said.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Congress chief Sonia Gandhi are expected to go to Andhra Pradesh on Friday to pay their last respect to the departed leader.


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