Minister of state for defence NVN Somu and four others, including a major general and two crew members, were killed when their army helicopter crashed over the snow-covered mountains in bad weather near Tawang in Arunachal Pradesh yesterday.
A fifth victim of the tragedy, that occurred a little after 9 am at a spot one-and-a-half km from Tawang in Lungar sector, was yet to be identified. Radio contact with the Cheetah helicopter was lost at 9.10 am hours, official sources here said.
Maj Gen RC Nagpal, general officer commanding of Four Mountain Division, was accompanying the 60-year-old minister who was on a two-day visit to the North-East. The two pilot majors were identified as PK Agarwal and PC Sharma from Shimla and Delhi respectively.
Five army choppers located the wreckage of the helicopter around noon at a snowbound, virtually inaccessible area with an altitude of more than 4000 metres.
Official sources said the crash was apparently caused due to poor visibility caused by mist in the early hours.
The body of the minister will be flown to Chennai for cremation. Somu, who visited the areas bordering China on Thursday, was to address the GoC of the army Four Corps and other senior officials in Tezpur yesterday.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister IK Gujral has cancelled his visit to Mumbai to commission the Indian Navys indigenously built missile destroyer INS Delhi today following Somus death.
Somu, a staunch loyalist of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) throughout his four-decade-long political career, is survived by his wife, a son and a daughter.
President KR Narayanan, Prime Minister IK Gujral, Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M Karunanidhi and a host of other leaders yesterday condoled the death of Somu.
Somu was a diligent and conscientious member of the council of ministers and an able parliamentarian. His passing away removes from our public life, a personality of prominence and great promise to the country, the President said in his condolence message.
Expressing deep sorrow over Somus untimely death, the Prime Minister said that he would miss Somus wise counsel in the council of ministers. Somu was a warm and gentle person. His views were expressed in the larger interest of the country, Gujral said in a message.
Tamil Nadu Chief Minister and DMK president M Karunanidhi said none could forget the yeoman service rendered by Somu to the DMK party.
The DMK president recalled Somus affable nature, simple lifestyle and the cordial relations he maintained with everybody and expressed unbearable shock on hearing the news of his death.
In his condolence message, defence minister Mulayam Singh Yadav described Somu as an honest and upright minister whose untimely death was an irreparable loss to the DMK and the United Front government. Yadav also condoled the deaths of senior army officers in the aircrash.
In his untimely demise I have lost a valued friend and parliamentary colleague and the country a young administrator of considerable promise, Lok Sabha speaker PA Sangma said in a condolence message.
Former Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee said the tragic death of NVN Somu is a loss for which we will all grieve. The CPI central secretariat expressed its deep shock and sorrow at the death of Somu.