14 dead, including 19 foreigners, in Indian helicopter crash

The only survivor of the chopper crash in eastern India Friday was in critical condition Saturday, bringing an outpouring of sympathy and condolences from the state of West Bengal to neighboring Bangladesh. More than half a dozen people died in the crash in rain-swept Perak district, a popular tourist destination about 40 miles from the border with Bangladesh.

The New Delhi-based Hindu newspaper reported that 17 other passengers including two foreigners and the pilot were killed. The identity of the foreigners have not been identified. A local journalist traveling with the victims said two Bangladeshis were believed to be on board.

The Tourism Ministry told its website that four days of national mourning will be declared from Sunday.

On Saturday, thousands of devotees filed past a rusted white body of the chopper, hoisted it onto a heap of bamboo poles and hoisted it into the trees. Officials said a report is expected within two weeks.

The helicopter came down about 3:45 p.m. Friday in the forest of Srikakulam district. The national highway between Chennai and Siliguri near the border is a popular destination for cross-border travel to the picturesque land of tea plantations, parks and well-known temples.

Perak district is located more than 4,200 feet above sea level and suffers from intense flooding at many times of the year.

According to local officials, the helicopter’s Russian-made helicopter had taken off from a Siliguri air base on a tourist trip. After the crew noticed the heavy rains and poor visibility, they decided to turn back to the air base, but the chopper overturned, according to the official Twitter feed of Kolkata airport.

Local police are assisting the National Aviation Safety Council of India in investigating the crash. The National Aviation Safety Council of India is an investigating agency set up under the Civil Aviation Act of 2006 and mandated to probe the causes of accidents. The council, a non-profit, government-funded body with a limited mandate, was set up because the government was not able to monitor the activities of private flying clubs and scheduled carriers.

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