Over 70 years ago, trouble in the air in Kotagiri

In 1950, an Air India Douglas C-47B aircraft crashed near Kil Kotagiri in the Nilgiris, killing its 20 passengers and crew, among them a noted statistician

The Indian Air Force Mi-17V5 helicopter crash on December 8, Wednesday afternoon, in the Coonoor ghat area of the Nilgiris that claimed the lives of the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) General Bipin Rawat, his wife Madhulika Rawat and 11 other Army personnel, is the second worst aviation accident in the district.

Seven decades earlier, on December 13, 1950, in another instance of controlled flight into terrain, an Air India Douglas C-47B aircraft crashed near Kil Kotagiri in the Nilgiris, killing its 20 passengers and crew, among them a noted statistician. The scheduled flight, from Madras, was bound for Trivandrum after landings at Bangalore and Coimbatore. The flight went missing just before it was to land at Coimbatore from Bangalore, according to a report in The Hindu Archives.

The pilot, Captain Andrew Wiseman, co-pilot Captain Ramnath Narayan Aiyar, and radio officer Kasargod Appu Shenoy had been in touch with Coimbatore control about 12 minutes before the scheduled landing time of 10.20 a.m. The dispatch adds that a “danger caution report” issued by the Coimbatore observatory had been received in Madras at 10.40 a.m., reporting low clouds over Coimbatore. Later in the day, search planes that went along the entire route reported bad weather and poor visibility in the Nilgiri ranges, where it was presumed the plane had gone down.

Among the passengers, both Indians and foreigners, was Professor Abraham Wald, Professor of Statistics at Columbia University, and a guest of the Indian government.

Based on information from two forest guards, the report says, military search parties renewed their hunt for the plane in an area that was “also one with very thick jungles in which many herds of bison and elephant roamed about”. The wreckage along with decomposed bodies, postal mail and belongings, was eventually located near Rangaswami hill, on December 19.

Another archival report says that Khurshed Lal, Deputy Minister for Communications, told Parliament on December 21 that an inquiry had been constituted. The Minister had also highlighted the weather as a factor to note.

Dharmalingam Venugopal, honorary director, Nilgiri Documentation Centre, told The Hindu that Prof. Wald’s work had played a key role in the Allied victory in the Second World War.

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