Flood rescue flight ends tragically as all aboard die

A helicopter helping victims of devastating floods in northern India has crashed near a pilgrimage site, killing all eight people on board, as fresh rains hamper the bid to rescue thousands still stranded.

Around 60 air force helicopters are taking part in the rescue operation in the Himalayan state of Uttarakhand where more than 1000 people have been killed by floods and landslides since the beginning of last week.

The helicopter which crashed was on a medical mission near the pilgrimage site of Gaurikund.

Gerard Galway, a spokesman for the air force in Uttarakhand, said the reasons for the crash were being investigated. The military has been leading efforts to evacuate 6000 pilgrims and tourists still stranded throughout the state since the floods hit on June 15.

Raging rivers have since swept away houses, buildings and even entire villages in the state, which was packed with travellers in what is a peak tourist season.

More than 1000 bridges have been damaged along with roads, cutting off villages and towns.

The scale of the rescue effort has been prompted in part by fears that failure to act swiftly could trigger widespread disease from hundreds of bodies which have yet to be recovered.

As well as trying to rescue stranded victims from remote parts of the mountainous state, relief workers have been busy spraying disinfectant and are preparing for a mass cremation in the holy town of Kedarnath which is one of the worst-hit areas.

But although tonnes of wood have been flown by helicopter into the area for the cremation, the ceremony had to be postponed following more heavy downpours.

About 6000 pilgrims and tourists are believed to be still stranded throughout Uttarakhand, known as the "Land of the Gods" for its revered Hindu shrines.

An Indian television journalist reporting on the deadly floods has defended his decision to file a report while perched on a survivor's shoulders.

Narayan Pargaien, who works for the local News Express channel, told Indian media website newslaundry. com that the criticism he has faced since the video was posted online was unfair.

"People are talking about us being inhuman and wrong but we were actually helping some of the victims there," Pargaien said.

The reporter claimed that the slight man who carried him, who can be seen wobbling under the strain while standing in ankle-high water, had hoisted him on to his shoulders as a sign of respect.

The man "wanted to show me some respect, as it was the first time someone of my level had visited his house. So while crossing the river he offered to help by carrying me ... between which, I thought of reporting", Pargaien said.

The journalist also attacked his cameraman for framing the shot so it showed him sitting on the survivor's shoulders and accused him of posting the video online.

"The report was supposed to be telecast only with footage of me chest-up. This was entirely the cameraman's fault, who ... tried to sabotage my career by shooting from that distance and angle and releasing the video," he said. "I was wrong as well. That was the wrong thing to do, and the wrong time to have shot that sequence. But what my cameraman did was even more unacceptable."

The YouTube video of the incident has been viewed more than 11,600 times since it was posted on Saturday.

- AFP

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