I normally don't just sit down and write about something unless I feel really compelled. YSR Rajasekhara Reddy the Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh passed away in a Helicopter crash yesterday, the remains were found this afternoon. His passing away compelled me to write this piece. He was going to visit a Village, an unannounced trip till the last minute, because he just wanted to "drop in" and talk to the villagers one on one and understand their problems without having an entourage of interlocutors.
I met YSR this year with respect to some flight operations. He was very personable, likeable, simple and easy to work with. Even though our contact was brief, he easily remembered my name and called me by my first name. From what I know, rural people loved him a lot, he'd remember everyone's names when he went visiting villages. I was struck by his uncanny ability to remember so much with genuine affection. Even I felt that when I was with him briefly. There was no doubt about his sincerity to work for people. I can't say the same for many politicians. To lose someone like him is rather hurting. I had met his wife and family briefly and my condolences goes out to them in their difficult time. I am not forgetting the others on the Helicopter who also perished, previously I had even met the Security officer Wesley, who died in the crash.
I am sorry for this sad post but I guess it reflects how I am feeling today and the anxiety of the previous day when the Helicopter first went missing. I have to ask some plain and simple questions:
1. Why did they dispatch the Helicopter when the weather was known to be bad? I checked on the weather including satellite maps from Singapore and it was evident that the weather was bad. So, don't tell me otherwise. I'd also ask whether these pilots, even though well experienced, done any CFIT training lately? (CFIT = Controlled Flight Into Terrain)...Does the State Government aviation arm have recurrent courses for CFIT?
2. Does the State Government have a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) in place? Are the Aircraft in it's fleet always dispatched under guidance from their manuals or is it just a fill it-shut it-fly it operation?
3. I know that people around VIP's exert a lot of pressure, I have faced it myself quite badly, where they insist on flying at any cost, even when there was a technical problem. My question to them is: Is it worth it? Laloo Prasad Yadav just came on TV and said that yes they do pressurize the pilots to fly and he wanted the pilots to refuse and walk away. Does that happen in India? Air safety is a concept that has to be ingrained in everyone who is connected with it. Drill it into the bureaucrats and others who surround VIP's and add to the pressure on operators and flight crews.
4. Why did the Emergency Locator Trasmitter (ELT) not work? This is supposed to operate automatically in the event of a crash such as this. The time spent in trying to locate the missing Helicopter was unacceptable, nearly 24 hours to search for the crash site...one of the reasons being an inactive ELT. An ELT is a stand-alone system with a separate power supply. The latest version is the ELT 406 which bounces signals off satellites to pin point the location of a crash. Did this Helicopter have this? If so, why was it not working?
These questions are meant for whoever is in charge, to answer. The DGCA (Indian Directorate General of Civil Aviation), god bless them, don't even have an updated web site. They came on air saying that the Helicopter that crashed did have a Certificate of Airworthiness, even though their web site said otherwise. They said that their website had not been updated. Talk about inefficiency and confusion caused.
We have had too many Helicopter and general aviation accidents in India. Check this out (not in any order), GMC Balayogi died in a Helicopter crash (Single engine) in bad weather in 2002 prompting the DGCA to insist that all VIP flights have to be done in Twin Engine Helicopters henceforth. OP Jindal died similarly in a Helicopter crash in 2005. Another Bell 430 (same as the one that YSR passed away) crashed killing the pilots and engineer on board last year (2008), belonging to a private company that charters these machines. Madhav Rao Scindia died in a ratty old King Air in 2001 in very bad weather with two most inexperienced pilots at the controls who also lost their lives. There are many more, I only cited some accidents that had VIP's on board. Makes me think...is general aviation safety audit really done properly in India? How many crashes need to take place before someone does something about fixing general Aviation in India?
Sad day for India and for the families of the deceased and for others who knew the people on this Helicopter and for aviation. The last one can be fixed. Do we have the professionalism in India to fix it?