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Indian rescue helicopter crashes: 20 dead

Disease fears grow over rotting bodies

Indian rescue helicopter crashes: 20 dead

The bodies of several flood victims are cremated

Ritu Sharma, Haridwar

June 26, 2013

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All 20 people on board an air force helicopter that crashed yesterday during rescue operations in flood-ravaged northern India have been confirmed dead, the country’s air force chief said today.

At least 12 bodies have been recovered as well as the helicopter’s cockpit voice recorder and the flight data recorder, Air Chief Marshal NAK Browne told reporters in Dehradun, capital of Uttarakhand state, one of the worst hit areas.

The chopper went down near Gaurikund, a well-known Hindu pilgrimage site, he said.  

“The chopper was on a search operation. It crashed in bad weather,” Varinderjeet Singh, superintendent of police in Rudraprayag district told earlier.

The Russian made M-17 V5 chopper was carrying 20 people--nine members of the National Disaster Response Force, six Indo-Tibetan Border Police and five Indian Air Force crew, according to Vishawnath Thurlapati of the National Disaster Management Authority.

Some 1,000 have been reported killed and several thousand left stranded in this mountainous region which borders Nepal and China after rains and flash floods struck the area on June 15.

Villages and roads were washed away leaving thousands, many of them Hindu pilgrims, stranded. At least 7,000 remain stranded, local reports say.

Rescue officials say bad weather has hampered rescue operations and the recovery and disposal of bodies in flood-affected areas for the last two days.

Fears of disease are growing because of decomposing corpses.  A mass cremation of hundreds of bodies planned in Kedarnath, another holy pilgrimage site, has not taken place because of bad weather.

“Bodies are decomposing and the foul smell is overpowering as they have been lying in the rain and sun for more than nine days now…. Bad weather is not allowing us to cremate the bodies,” said superintendent Singh.

Kuldeep Singh, in charge of disaster operations in nearby Haridwar, told that before cremations take place they plan to photograph the bodies and collect DNA samples to help relatives and officials identify them.

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