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5 die in copter crash near Srinagar
Tribune News Service

Srinagar, August 5
In a tragic incident, Group Capt J.S. Kahloon (retd) and four Amarnath pilgrims were killed and another pilgrim was injured when a Jammu and Kashmir Government helicopter crashed near Ganderbal in the district early this morning.

The helicopter was flown by Group Captain Kahloon from the Nehru helipad here and was bound for the Amarnath cave shrine, carrying pilgrims, when the aircrash took place at about 7.45 a.m. Group Captain Kahloon, who had been associated with the state government for several years, was also the Commissioner, Civil Aviation, in the Jammu and Kashmir Chief Ministerís secretariat. The bodies have been flown to New Delhi.

An official spokesman said here that a likely cause of the aircrash was bad weather. The Jammu and Kashmir Government has ordered an inquiry into the aircrash for which a three-member committee has been constituted under the chairmanship of the Divisional Commissioner, Kashmir, Mr Parvez Dewan. Other members of the committee include Colonel Ray, a senior pilot of the state Aviation Department, and an Aviation Engineer, an official spokesman here said.

A three-member inquiry committee of the Director-General of Civil Aviation has also reached here for conducting the mandatory inquiry.

In his condolence message, the Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister, Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, has expressed shock over the death of five persons, including Group Captain Kahloon and four pilgrims. He has conveyed his personal condolences to the bereaved families of Group Captain Kahloon and the pilgrims.

The pilgrims killed in the crash have been identified as Vineet Kedia, his wife, Ritika Kedia, Om Narain and Sangeeta. Mr Ajay Kumar, another pilgrim in the ill-fated helicopter, was injured in the crash, and has been shifted to hospital. They had left the hotel around 5 a.m. today, and the tragic end came within hours, a staff member of Grand Palace Hotel said.

According to reports received here, the deceased pilgrims and the injured one were part of a 32-member group from New Delhi staying at Grand Palace Hotel, overlooking the Dal lake, where they had checked in on Sunday. One of the smaller groups had already performed the yatra at the holy cave shrine of Amarnath in the upper reaches of Pahalgam yesterday. The other members were also scheduled to undertake the yatra to the holy cave in similar groups.

Expressing shock over the accident, the Jammu and Kashmir Tourism Minister, Mr Ghulam Hassan Mir, told The Tribune that the helicopter service was offered as part of the governmentís drive to promote tourism. He said since the other helicopter was unoperational due to some technical problem, such flights may not be operated for the pilgrims during the coming days. The ill-fated helicopter had developed snags and those on board had a providential escape at least four times during the past seven years.

The chief pilot of Jammu and Kashmir Civil Aviation, Mr S Katoch, and additional secretary to the Chief Minister, Mr Zaffar Ahmad, accompanied the bodies of Group Captain Kahloon and the killed pilgrims to New Delhi.

The wife of Group Captain Kahloon who was at Chandigarh and his son who was in Mumbai at the time of the incident were also reaching New Delhi. The other members of the ill-fated group, staying in Hotel Grand Palace, also accompanied the bodies to New Delhi.

Earlier, wreaths were laid on the bodies on behalf of the Governor, Lt-Gen S.K. Sinha (retd), the Chief Minister, Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, the Chief Secretary, Dr S.S. Bloeria, the Director-General of Police, Mr Gopal Sharma, and the Principal Secretary to the Chief Minister, Mr M.I. Khanday.
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