All 20 people on board a military helicopter were killed when it crashed in flood-devastated northern India, the country’s air force head said on Wednesday. The helicopter carrying soldiers, police and rescue workers crashed on Tuesday afternoon during a rescue mission in the Himalayan state of Uttarakhand, where flash floods and landslides have killed about 1,000 people.
The death toll from the crash rose from eight to 20 after rescue workers continued their search for bodies at the crash site in a mountainous area of the state, air force officials said.
“Twenty warriors have died. It is a loss for the entire nation,” Air Chief Marshal N.A.K. Browne said in the state capital Dehradun.
“It is difficult to say at the moment how the plane crashed, if it was because of a technical fault or poor weather conditions,” he said. “The cockpit recorder has been found,” he added.
The helicopter had been flying a mission near the holy pilgrimage area of Kedarnath, the epicenter of the disaster.
Those killed were from the National Disaster Response Force, the Indo-Tibetan Border Police and the air force, officials said. The military, including 60 helicopters, has been leading efforts to evacuate about 6,000 pilgrims and tourists still stranded throughout the state since the floods hit on June 15.
Raging rivers have swept away houses, buildings and even entire villages in the state, which was packed with travelers in what is a peak tourist season.
More than 1,000 bridges have been damaged along with roads, cutting off villages and towns.
Multiple agencies undertaking relief and rescue operations are becoming increasingly concerned about the spread of disease, particularly from the bodies of those who perished in Kedarnath.
Mass cremations of hundreds of bodies were delayed on Tuesday, as heavy rains hampered preparations.
“We want to cremate the bodies, but the rains are not allowing the process to start,” senior disaster management official K.N. Pandey said.