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DGCA smells danger lurking in Char Dham heli services, issues advisory

The regulator has issued an operational advisory to the Char Dham helicopter operators following a hard landing by a chopper ferrying pilgrims to Kedarnath. They have been cautioned against compromising on safety while meeting the rush of bookings.

NEW DELHI, June 5: The Directorate-General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) has issued an operational advisory to the Char Dham helicopter operators following a hard landing by a chopper ferrying pilgrims to the high-altitude Kedarnath helipad, which has only a one-way approach, in the mountainous Himalayan State of Uttarakhand, last week.

The aviation regulator on Friday issued the advisory to all helicopter operators plying on the Char Dham pilgrimage routes and also began an investigation into the incident, it is learnt. The regulator has ordered strict compliance with safety standards.

It is also suspected that the pilots of the private heli services may not be adhereing to the norms of observance of mandatory rest before each trip in view of the heavy rush of bookings posing potential threat to lives. A pilot's adequate rest is a prerequisite for safe flying every time.

The landing mishap occurred on May 31 at the Kedarnath helipad. However, no injuries were reported. “On May 31, at around 1.30 pm, a Bell 407 helicopter while landing at Kedarnath helipad made an unstable approach to the helipad," an official of the regulator told HT. "During touchdown, the helicopter struck the helipad surface hard, bounced up, and after having lost direction by about 270 degrees settled down hard on the ground," it was reported. The helicopter had gone out of control. The pilgrims waiting on the helipad ran helter skelter.

“Adequate precautions are to be taken and if the tail / cross wind component is beyond the permissible limits, the approach is to be abandoned and helicopter is to return to base. With an increase in ambient temperatures and humidity, the power available decreases and consequently the load carrying capability reduces. This fact is to be kept in mind and, if required, the load shall be recalculated and reduced," the advisory read.

Several heli operators are engaged in flying pilgrims to the Char Dhams of Yamunotri, Gangotri, Kedarnath and Badrinath during the May- October season. Kedarnath especially has no motorable road on the last stretch of 18 km from Gaurikund which the pilgrims will have to trek or be carried on ponies or palanquins or fly by chopper from the helipads down the route at Sirsi, Phata or Guptkashi.

About five lakh pilgrims have already visited the shrines in the first month itself, especially after a gap of two years of the covid pandemic.

Accidents

Six pilgrims on board a helicopter had a narrow escape when it crash- landed at a helipad at the Himalayan shrine of Kedarnath on September 23, 2019 soon after takeoff. The helicopter had taken off for Phata from Kedarnath when it developed a technical snag.

A month earlier, there was a fatal helicopter crash and another emergency landing in Uttarkashi district.A helicopter engaged in relief and rescue operations in the rain-ravaged Uttarkashi district crashed on August 21, killing two crew members and a local resident.

Two days later, the two-member crew of another helicopter had a close call in the same district.It landed on the banks of a Nagawada river near Tikochi. It was carrying relief materials to Chiwa. The helicopter was damaged. The pilot and co-pilot suffered minor injuries.

In April, 2018, a transport helicopter, MI-17, of the Indian Air Force crashed after it hit an iron girder while landing at a helipad near Kedarnath temple. All passengers faced minor injuries.

About Kedarnath

Kedarnath is one among the Char Dhams (four holy places) in the State of Uttarakhand. The Lord Shiva shrine is one among the 12 Jyotirlingas. It is situated in Rudraprayag district of the State of Uttarakhand in the Himalayas. From Haridwar by road it is a distance of around 235 km to Gaurikund and from Gaurikund to Kedarnath temple is 18 km by trek/carriers/chopper.

TRAVEL ADVISORY: The temple is open for pilgrims for 6 months from May to October because of extreme winter during the rest of the year. Best is to avoid monsoon when landslides occur and plan a visit during early May or late October. The temple timing is 5:00 am to 3:00 pm and from 5:00 pm till late in the night. One may have to stand in a queue as long as a km for about two hours for darshan.

Night driving/trekking is risky. Hotel and guesthouse stay is available along the route for around Rs 1,000. BSNL, Airtel, Idea and Jio have good connectivity at Kedarnath.

BY ROAD & CHOPPER: Delhi-Haridwar-Rishikesh-Devprayag- Shrinagar-Rudraprayg-Tilwara-Agastmuni-Guptkashi-Phata-Sirsi- Sitapur-Sonprayag-(Sonprayag to Gaurikund shared taxis)-Gaurikund (Haridwar to Gaurikund is 235 km; Gaurikund is last motorable point)- last 17 km to Kedarnath to be trekked or carried or fly by chopper 10 to 15 minutes; Helipads are at Guptkashi, Phata, Sirsi and Sitapur along the route behind Sonprayag. There are several helicopter service operators. Phata/Sirsi to Kedarnath current chopper fare is Rs 2,360 - (booking only at website: www.heliservices.uk.gov.in). Ponies, dolies (palanquin), pithus are also available. Palanquin from Gaurikund may cost Rs 10,000 and ponies around Rs 5,000.

BY AIR: Delhi to State Capital Dehradun (Jolly Grant airport) by scheduled passenger flight - Dehradun to Phata to Kedarnath by chopper. Chopper service is also available from Dehradun and Haridwar to all the four Char Dhams (Yamunotri, Gangotri, Kedarnath and Badrinath).

BY TRAIN: Trains are only up to Haridwar, Rishikesh and Dehradun (Capital) from Delhi.

One must carry an ID proof.

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