New Delhi, Apr 21: A blame game has erupted over the Tawang helicopter crash that claimed 17 lives with Pawan Hans asserting today its choppers were "properly and regularly maintained" after the Arunachal Pradesh government charged the operator with flying "non-airworthy" helicopters.
Rejecting the charges by the Arunachal government over airworthiness of its fleet, the central government-owned helicopter operator said its choppers were properly maintained and had the necessary certification to fly.
"Our helicopters are properly and regularly maintained and serviced. All of them have valid airworthiness certification and our pilots are highly trained", a spokesman for the Pawan Hans Helicopters Limited (PHHL) told PTI.
He said the pilots Capt Varun Gupta and Capt A K Tiwari of the ill-fated Mi-17 chopper were "highly experienced with over 5,000 hours of flying".
Tuesday's accident caused the death of 17 of the 23 people on board the helicopter but Capt Gupta and five others miraculously survived though with serious burn injuries. Tiwari was among the victims.
The PHHL spokesman's statement came after the state government shot off a letter to the Civil Aviation Ministry demanding an inquiry into the maintenance status of the PHHL helicopters and whether the guidelines of Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) were being met by it. The state government yesterday blamed PHHL for the crash.
"Despite repeated written complaint to the Pawan Hans Chairman-cum-Chief Managing Director R K Tyagi and General Manager (Marketing) and in-charge of North East Sanjoy Kumar to replace the 15-year-old choppers being pressed into service in the state since 1995, the authority remained unmoved," the north-eastern state's Civil Aviation Commissioner Hage Khoda said yesterday.
Arunachal Home Minister Tako Dabi, Lok Sabha MP Takam Sanjoy and several others have also criticised PHHL for allegedly operating "non-airworthy" helicopters to and from Tawang, a popular tourist destination. The Tawang helipad is one of the highest in the world, located at an altitude of 11,000 feet, bordering China's Tibet region.
There have been a series of chopper crashes in the high altitude areas of Arunachal Pradesh, including in November 1997 in which Minister of State for Defence NVN Somu and three others were killed when their Cheetah helicopter hit a 1,300 feet peak about 40 kms from Tawang.
In 2009, an IAF AN-32 aircraft crashed at Mechuka killing all 13 defence personnel on board.
Eleven air force personnel and an army colonel were killed when an air force Mi17 helicopter crashed near the China frontier on November 19, 2010, a minute after take-off.
In August last year, a cabin crew member Dhananjay Roy fell to his death when an IAF chopper was flying from Namsai to Tezu on routine passenger service.
The PHHL, which started service from 1995, has two 24-seater Mi172 helicopter and an 8-seater one in the state.
The state government has an 8-seater helicopter run by Global Vectra and another 24-seater Jagson that has been discontinued because of frequent technical problems, according to state government officials.
In May 2001, Arunachal Pradesh Education Minister Dera Natung and five others were killed when their Pawan Hans craft crashed near Tawang because of poor visibility. PTI