Chandigarh : Two Indian Army pilots were killed when their Cheetah helicopter crashed in Himachal Pradesh Thursday, an official here said.
A defence spokesman identified the pilots as Lt. Col. J.M.P. D'Cunha and Major Puneet Karol.
The crash occurred at 10.50 a.m. in Karcham in the tribal district of Kinnaur soon after the helicopter lost contact with the air traffic control (ATC).
The Army Aviation Corps (AAC) helicopter had taken off from Jalandhar and was to fly to Bhavnagar to Karcham – both in Himachal Pradesh – before returning to its base. Cheetah helicopters are used to ferrying personnel and supplies, as also for reconnaissance.
There were differing accounts of how the accident occurred.
Eyewitnesses near the crash site are reported to have told local officials that the helicopter caught fire after getting entangled in high-voltage electricity wires while trying to land.
There are several hydroelectric projects in the area and electricity wires are common in the rocky mountain terrain.
However, police in Himachal Pradesh capital Shimla said the helicopter crashed after its rotors got entangled in a span wire strung across two mountains.
Span wires are used to ferry goods-carrying trolleys from one hill to another in areas where roads cannot be constructed.
Rescue teams were despatched to the area where the helicopter crashed, a defence official here said.
A court of inquiry had also been ordered, he added.
Thursday's crash was the second of a Cheetah this year and the seventh of a military aircraft.
On April 11, two pilots were killed when an Indian Air Force (IAF) Cheetah crashed over the Siachen glacier in Jammu and Kashmir.
The IAF also lost five other aircraft in the last five months.
A Jaguar fighter had crashed at the Nal air base in Rajasthan Jan 18. An indigenously developed Dhruv advanced light helicopter (ALH) had crashed Feb 2 while rehearsing for the Aero India international air show at Yelahanka near Bangalore. A MiG-21 fighter met a similar fate near Kurseong in West Bengal March 1.
On May 8, an MiG-29 fighter crashed soon after taking off from Adampur in Punjab but the pilot managed to bail out safely.
Two pilots died May 22 after a MiG-21 fighter crashed in Jammu and Kashmir.
Soon after assuming office last month, the IAF chief, Air Chief Marshal Fali Major, had said the force had recorded its lowest rate of 0.36 percent accidents per 10,000 flying hours in its 75-year history.