Thursday, December 09, 2021

Seven decades ago, a Dakota crash in the Nilgiris that took 20 lives

The recent chopper crash in Coonoor in which 13 people including Chief of Defence Staff General Bipin Rawat perished, isn’t the first such accident in the Niligiri hills of Tamil Nadu. On December 13, 1950, an entire crew of 20 aboard a Douglas DC-3/C-47 Dakota VT-CFK of Air India were killed after the aircraft crashed near Kil Kotagiri, a Badaga village in the Nilgiris.  Renowned mathematician Dr Abraham Wald and his wife were among the casualties.

A December 21 edition of The Hindu reported that all the 20 persons aboard the Dakota, presumed to be missing since December 13, were declared dead following a military search party’s examination of the aircraft’s wreckage in the Denad Reserve Forest near Kil Kotagiri, 40 miles north of Coimbatore.

“The wreckage of the plane was found in a rocky desolate valley below Rangaswami Hill, eight miles from Kil Kotagiri,” the report said. With an elevation of about 6,000 feet, the actual place where the plane had crashed was four miles from Kil Kotagiri, it said. “The military party and medical men from Wellington had practically to crawl on hands and feet the last one and a half mild to reach the spot,” the report said.

The news report filed by A Dharmalingam, the first Badaga journalist from the Nilgiris, said that a forest guard and a washerman were the first to discover the mangled remains of the aircraft and the dead bodies. They had rushed back to Kil Kotagiri and informed the military, who immediately hastened to the spot under the command of Lt-Col Mukherjee of the (Defence Services) Staff College, St Wellington.

It is interesting to note that the Defence Services Staff College (DSSC) was established at Wellington just three years before the crash.

The report claimed that the pilot had entirely missed the direction and hit straight against the hill, causing the aircraft to crash.

“The plane, which was on a scheduled flight between Madras and Trivandrum, last contacted Coimbatore airport for bearings at 10.30 am on Wednesday. It was due to land at Coimbatore airport 12 minutes later,” the report read.

Interestingly, the then DSP of Coimbatore had announced a prize money of ₹500 for anyone who would provide information on the plane’s whereabouts. It was the information by a driver at the Curzon tea estate near Rangaswami Hill that led to the discovery of the plane. The driver, working under Mr Briscoe, the tea estate’s manager had spotted something that looked like the wing of a plane with his binoculars. When a military plane carrying around 100 officers landed at the spot, 18 of the 20 bodies had decomposed, the report said. As it was impossible to remove the bodies from the spot due to the difficult nature of the terrain, it was proposed to hold the inquest on the spot and dispose the bodies there itself.

09/12/21 N Vinoth Kumar/Federal

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