Hit by ‘Naxal fire’, IAF chopper crash-lands in Chhattisgarh

In the first incident of its kind, an Indian Air Force Mi 17 helicopter on its way to rescue policemen injured in an encounter with Maoists, crash-landed Friday after the extremists allegedly fired at it in Chhattisgarh's Sukma district, officials said.

Six IAF personnel, including two Garud commandos in the chopper, walked back to a Central Reserve Police Force camp, around 8 km away after the crash-landing, leaving an injured wireless operator behind, officials said. The operator from the Chhattisgarh Police was injured by ground fire.

There have been attempts in the past to target choppers on evacuation duty but this is the first time the Maoists were able to bring one down.

"The six IAF personnel walked to the nearby CRPF camp after the helicopter crash-landed. One of our constables who was on board was injured and could not come back. We are yet to ascertain why the IAF personnel left him behind," said Abhishek Shandilya, superintendent of police, Sukma. There were seven people on board including the six IAF personnel.

"We have not been able to ascertain the exact reason behind the chopper being brought down, but it is strongly suspected the Maoists fired at it," said Shandilya.

The IAF said the chopper had been sent at 4.45 pm to evacuate injured Chhattisgarh policemen. The area from where the evacuation was to be done was about 100 km from the take-off zone and as the chopper was descending, it was hit by fire twice.

While the pilots tried to steer the aircraft away from the firing, ground fire hit the machine twice, badly damaging its hydraulic systems. The pilots, however, managed to land the chopper at a nearby field despite the hydraulic and generator failure.

Earlier, around 3.30 pm, the Maoists engaged personnel of Chhattisgarh police in a gunfight near Puswada in Sukma district. One policeman died and another was injured and the chopper was sent to evacuate the latter.

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