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Search for 1968 crash wreckage called off

By Josy Joseph in New Delhi
September 16, 2003 22:33 IST
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The Indian Air Force and Indian Army have called off their joint search operation in the glaciated mountains off Kullu-Manali for the remains of 98 military personnel and the AN-12 that crashed with them on board in 1968.

Operation Punar Uthan was launched in the first week of August.

The plane had crashed in the Lahaul-Spiti area on February 7, 1968, killing all personnel on board. The aircraft was on a routine flight from Chandigarh to Leh, and it was returning to Chandigarh after failing to land in Leh due to inclement weather.

For the past 35 years, no trace of the aircraft had been found in spite of search operations.

The present search was launched after trekkers found the remains of one of the soldiers, Beli Ram, who was killed in the crash. The search was being conducted at an altitude of over 16000 feet from Batal, the administrative base, which is located approximately 68 kilometres northeast of Manali.

"Inclement weather and fresh snowfall in the area have made further operations extremely hazardous," a military spokesman said on Tuesday.

A fresh court of inquiry ordered by the IAF to investigate the crash has, meanwhile, concluded that the ill-fated plane flew 'head on into the steep face of the mountain, under conditions of bad weather and severe turbulence, completely disintegrating on impact'.

The wreckage, said an IAF official, fell to the glacial bowl at the base of the mountain and was promptly buried due to multiple avalanches set off by the impact, he said of the board of inquiry findings.

The board also ruled out the possibility of any survivors. Due to glacial movement some parts of the aircraft and the body of Beli Ram surfaced at the melting zone.

Other parts of the wreckage are still buried under tons of ice and snow and are inaccessible, the search teams have now concluded.

"Attempts to unearth further wreckage would jeopardize safety and endanger lives of the searchers," the spokesman said.

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Josy Joseph in New Delhi