By Swati Bhasin
Seven people who were aboard a chopper that crashed in Uttarakhand near the iconic Kedarnath Dham have died, officials have confirmed. The tragedy occurred when the chopper crashed at Garud Chatti, nearly 2 km from the Kedarnath Dham shrine. Chief Minister Pushkar Dhami has ordered a probe.

“Very sad news has been received about the casualties of some people in the unfortunate helicopter crash at Garuda Chatti near Kedarnath. The SDRF and district administration teams have reached the spot for relief and rescue work. A detailed inquiry has been ordered into this tragic incident,” he tweeted.

The helicopter – carrying pilgrims – was flying from Kedarnath to the Phata helipad. Teams of the SDRF (State Disaster Response Force), and local police officials were rushed to the accident site.

“Anguished by the helicopter crash in Uttarakhand. In this tragic hour, my thoughts are with the bereaved families,” a statement by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s office quoted him as saying.

Uttarakhand SDRF Commandant Manikant Mishra confirmed the deaths in the chopper crash, which was reported to have taken place minutes after the takeoff. Bad weather is believed to have caused the tragedy.

The chopper was operated by private firm – Ayan Aviation Pvt. Ltd – that provides heli services in the area. “As per the preliminary information received, a Bell 407 helicopter registered as VT-RPN belonging to a Delhi based Aryan Aviation crashed on the way from Kedarnath to Guptkashi,” an official said.

Visuals from the site showed debris spread all over the mountainous region. The accident had also sparked a fire.

C Ravi Shankar, chief executive officer (CEO) of the Uttarakhand civil aviation development authority (UCADA), at a press briefing said: “The weather conditions were bad in the area. The investigation will reveal what exactly happened there. Pilots also have to see safety aspects while flying when weather conditions or visibility conditions are bad. District magistrate Rudraprayag has also ordered a magisterial inquiry into the incident. Chopper operations in the Kedarnath Dham have been stopped till further orders.”

“We will also report to Centre and DGCA about the incident. Nine heli operators are operating in the area and at a time six choppers can fly in the area,” he added.