Itanagar, Apr 19: Seventeen Indian tourists were killed and six, including both the pilots, survived after a commercial Pawan Hans helicopter crashed and burst into flames minutes before landing at a high-altitude helipad in Tawang, Arunachal Pradesh, reports India TV reporter Vikash Kumar Sharma.
"As of now we can confirm that 17 people have died in the crash and there were six survivors, including both the pilots, and they have been shifted to hospital with serious injuries," A. Toko, assistant director of the Arunachal Pradesh civil aviation department.
The chopper, which belonged to central government-owned Pawan Hans Helicopters Ltd (PHHL), caught fire just as it was about to land at the Tawang helipad located at an altitude of 11,000 feet, bordering China's Tibet region.
"The helicopter probably caught fire over the Tawang helipad as it was about to land and then crashed, with the wreckage spotted just a little distance away from the helipad.
Earlier reports said the chopper crashed into a hill just before landing.
There were 23 people on board the chopper - 16 adult passengers, two minors, two pilots and three crew members. The helicopter can carry 30 people.
"Among the survivors are four passengers whose condition is stated to be critical.
The Mi-17 helicopter took off from Assam's main city of Guwahati at 12.50 p.m. and crashed around 13.57 p.m.
PHHL operates daily chopper services between Guwahati and Tawang for the last nine years, while the company also provides services to other remote locations in Arunachal Pradesh and the rest of the northeast.
All the passengers were Indians and mostly tourists.
According to a company official, the area where the helipad is located had fine weather for operating a chopper and that this was the first incident that the company had witnessed in the region.
"We have been operating the service for around nine years now. Even yesterday the same chopper flew back and forth from here carrying passengers. We are waiting for the rescue operations to end to ascertain the cause of the crash," the official, who is located in Arunachal capital Itanagar.
Currently, PHHL provides helicopter support services to the state governments of Arunachal Pradesh, Meghalaya, Tripura, Sikkim and Nagaland. The company has located five kinds of helicopters in these states for the services.
In November last year, 12 army personnel were killed when a Mi-17 helicopter crashed near Tawang just after take off.