New Delhi, Jan. 22: An Indian Air Force helicopter that was riddled with bullets in an encounter with Maoists last Friday has been repaired and was back in operation.
Air Force spokesperson Wing Commander Gerard Galway today said "the aircraft has been recovered after repairs were carried out on-site by our men working through the night despite extensive damage".
Police had complained the Mil Mi-17 helicopter had landed at a distance from its designated spot during the encounter and that its crew had fled leaving behind a personal weapon and an injured radio operator. The Union home ministry had asked the defence ministry for a report on the encounter and the role of the air force.
Air force sources said the pilots had to make an emergency landing because the chopper was losing fuel after it was shot. "Out air crew actually performed very well in trying circumstances. They left behind an LMG (light machine gun) for the Chhattisgarh police radio operator's self defence. Bullets shot from very close range had whizzed past the air crew, we can make out from the damage. The crew was soaked in hot oil that sprung from the leaks to the hydraulic system."
The air force report shows that the landing zone had not been sanitised and that the rebels could get close enough to aim at the helicopter even when it tried to manoeuvre out of harm's way.
The differences in the versions of the police and the air force clearly point to a lack of operational coordination between the security forces. The IAF is mandated to fire at rebels in self-defence but its primary task is to ferry troops and evacuate casualties.
IAF choppers in Chhattisgarh are based in Jagdalpur.