20 bodies found after India helicopter crashes on Uttarakhand floods rescue


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The Independent Online

Paramilitary soldiers have recovered 20 bodies from a steep hillside in northern India where a rescue helicopter crashed while attempting to evacuate people stranded in monsoon floods, the country's air force chief said.

The helicopter crashed late on Tuesday night after its rotor blades hit the hillsides. Soldiers reached the crash site using ropes early on Wednesday morning and retrieved the bodies of 20 people, including five air force crew members, Air Chief Marshal N.A.K. Browne told reporters.

Severe weather conditions have continually hampered rescue efforts in Uttarakhand state, where more than 1,000 people are believed to have died and thousands remain stranded in remote areas because of landslides and floods triggered by torrential monsoon rains. Charity Save the Children estimated at least 150,000 people, almost half of them children, have been displaced during the floods.

The helicopter's cockpit voice recorder has been recovered and the air force has now ordered an inquiry into the crash.

Survivors said food and medicine were still in short supply after the landslides and floods flattened entire towns, washed away roads and snapped communication links, isolating survivors and necessitating the air rescues. There are currently 45 aircraft involved in rescue and relief operations in Uttarakhand but intermittent rain and dense fog have dogged the efforts to deliver supplies of essential goods since Sunday.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and the president of ruling Congress party Sonia Gandhi have pledged financial help and other support to the state government. The prime minister promised 10 billion rupees in disaster relief to Uttarakhand.

Troops are still trying to rescue about 5,000 people who remain stranded in the towns of Badrinath and Harsil 10 days after torrential rains triggered the flooding and landslides. Mr Browne has assured flood survivors that helicopters would rescue everyone stranded in Uttarakhand despite the bad weather.

About 92,000 people from hundreds of villages and towns hit by the floods have been rescued since the disaster hit earlier in June.

Additional reporting by agencies