Indian Politician's Helicopter Missing in Rain

A helicopter carrying a powerful politician from southern India disappeared in bad weather Wednesday as it was flying over a forested region infested with Maoist rebels.

Air force helicopters rushed to the area to search for the aircraft carrying Y.S.R. Reddy, the 60-year-old chief minister of Andhra Pradesh state, said K. Roshaiah, the state finance minister.

He spoke to reporters Wednesday afternoon, about six hours into the search, and said authorities had few clues.

"Our helicopters are still searching. The missing helicopter may have landed in an unfamiliar forest area from where it is difficult to get out," said Ramakant Reddy, another top state government official.

The helicopter took off from Hyderabad, the state capital, and lost contact with air traffic controllers about 45 minutes into the flight, Roshaiah said. At that time, the helicopters was believed to be about 170 miles (275 kilometers) south of the capital.

The rebels, who say they are inspired by Chinese revolutionary leader Mao Zedong, have been fighting for more than three decades in several Indian states, demanding land and jobs for agricultural laborers and the poor.

While the militants have a great deal of power in parts of rural India, including Andhra Pradesh, they have little day-to-day control outside of isolated forests and villages.

More than 6,500 people have been killed in the violence.