HYDERABAD, India – A powerful Indian politician and four other people were killed when their helicopter crashed in the dense jungles of southern India during a pounding rainstorm, Indian media reported Thursday.
The helicopter carrying Andhra Pradesh state Chief Minister Y.S.R. Reddy, 60, lost contact with air traffic controllers Wednesday morning as heavy rains pelted the region, setting off a frantic 24-hour search operation involving the army, air force and police in an area infested with Maoist rebels.
On Thursday morning, commandoes and police finally reached the site of the crash after hacking through the jungles and found the bodies of all five people who had been on the aircraft, including Reddy, Press Trust of India reported, quoting officials from the ruling Congress Party.
Television also reported that five bodies had been found at the site about 170 miles south of the state capital, Hyderabad. There was no immediate official confirmation of Reddy's death.
On Thursday, rescue teams crossing dense jungle and hilly terrain on foot reached the site, 5 miles from the nearest village, Rudrakodur.
There was no immediate indication that the helicopter was shot down.
The privately owned helicopter took off from Hyderabad and lost contact with air traffic controllers about 45 minutes into the flight.
Reddy, who was on an inspection tour of various rural social welfare programs, was accompanied by a bodyguard, two officials and a photographer.
Reddy, who belongs to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's ruling Congress Party, had won a second term in office in elections held this year.
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, including Andhra Pradesh, demanding land and jobs for agricultural laborers and the poor.
While the militants have a great deal of power in parts of rural India, they have little day-to-day control outside of isolated forests and villages.
More than 6,500 people have been killed in the violence.