How a Large Vulture Downed Chopper in Katra

JAMMU: Six pilgrims and a pilot were killed near Katra town when a large vulture hit a helicopter transporting them to a Vaishno Devi shrine.

A newlywed couple and a six-year-old girl were among those killed after the bird got caught in the tail rotor. The aircraft then became entangled in electrical wires as the pilot attempted a controlled descent, killing everyone on board.

“The aircraft met with an accident near Katra and likely hit a bird. The investigation is in process,” a company spokesman said. “It was a local pilgrim operation – the normal 365-day passenger-carrying operation.”

Governor Vohra said that a “vulture had hit the chopper”.

At least three species of vulture are found in Kashmir, including the critically endangered long-billed vulture.

A team from the Air Accident Investigation Bureau has begun inspection of the crash site.

The female pilot, Captain Sunita Vijayan, 43, was a highly experienced ex-Indian Air Force hill pilot. All passengers originated from either Jammu or Delhi.

The aircraft was a small six-seater Airbus manufactured in 2010.

The tragedy on Monday came a day after a new strategy to attract high-end international tourim to Kashmir through helicopter “air safaris” was announced by Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, the state’s chief minister.

“Guests can now experience the thrill of a helicopter ride over Pahalgam, Sonmarg and Gulmarg. It will also promote heli-skiing, which has a huge potential in the Kashmir Valley,” said Mr Sayeed.

Himalayan Heli Services, the company that owned the helicopter involved in the crash, runs heli-skiing and charter services for tourists as well as transporting pilgrims.

It also provides an “election service” for politicians campaigning around the mountainous region’s more remote settlements.

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