Garud commandos, advanced helicopter work to save students stuck in raging Tamil Nadu fire

According to an official, this is not the right time to go trekking in the Theni forest-division since the area is prone to fires during this season
The trekkers were completing an overnight journey when the fire broke out  (representative image)
The trekkers were completing an overnight journey when the fire broke out (representative image)

Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman on Monday said an advanced light helicopter (ALH) will be pressed into service due to the hostile terrain, to rescue students and trekkers still trapped in the deadly fire that broke out near Theni on Sunday. Nine trekker who were part of an expedition in the Western Ghats were killed in the sudden forest fire, sources said on Monday. The fire, that has raged since Sunday, has prompted the Kerala government to ban trekking in state forests. 

Citing the terrain as a major hindrance in conducting operations seamlessly, Sitharaman said, "We are also bringing in an ALH, which is a light helicopter so that the manoeuvrability will be better because this cliff is almost a vertical hillock, which goes up very sharply and there is not much not of a level ground where they can land."

The expedition was organised by a Chennai-based trekking club. Among the dead, six were from Chennai and three from Erode, local police said. "Nine persons are dead, while 17 of the rescued have been hospitalised and 10 did not require hospitalisation", said  Commissioner of Revenue Administration K Sathyagopal.

A 36-member team -- 24 people from Chennai and 12 from Tiruppur and Erode districts -- on a trekking expedition reached Kurangani hills on March 10. The team included 25 women and three children, according to Theni District Collector Mariam Pallavi Baldev.

The defence minister said 16 Garud commandos - a special force of the Indian Air Force - have rescued a few people at night. "At the moment, the report is that the garuds are trying to lift the bodies of the dead to a higher plain, from where you can have the helicopters go and carry them down. So there are two helicopters waiting to do this particular activity," Sitharaman said.

One helicopter has spent a lot of time from early dawn to contain the fire. It has also has doused the fire in the area from where the bodies were moved, she added. 

Kurangani-Kozhukumalai hills in the Western Ghats are located near Bodinayakanur, about 40 kms from here. Four choppers of the Indian Air Force (IAF) had been pressed in to service earlier and one of them continued to attempt dousing the raging fire. 

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