HYDERABAD, India , Sept 3 - A powerful Indian politician and four other people were killed when their helicopter crashed in the dense jungles of southern India during a pounding rainstorm, the government announced Thursday.
The helicopter carrying Andhra Pradesh state Chief Minister Y.S.R. Reddy lost contact with air traffic controllers Wednesday morning as heavy rains pelted the region, setting off a frantic 24-hour search operation involving the army, air force and police in an area infested with Maoist rebels.
On Thursday morning, commandoes and police finally reached the site of the crash after hacking through the jungles and found the bodies of all five people who had been on the aircraft, including 60-year-old Reddy.
"We are in deep mourning. We have a deep sense of grief, shock and loss at the passing away of the chief minister, and a tall leader of the Congress Party," Home Minister P. Chidambaram said.
On Thursday, rescue teams crossing dense jungle and hilly terrain on foot reached the crash site on a hill five miles (eight kilometers) from the nearest village and about 170 miles (275 kilometers) south of the state capital, Hyderabad.
The privately owned helicopter took off from Hyderabad and lost contact with air traffic controllers about 45 minutes into the flight.
Commandos who reached the crash site after a daylong search in incessant rain found the five charred bodies and the mangled remains of the helicopter, Chidambaram said.
Investigators have begun the helicopter wreckage to determine the cause of the crash.
"It is not possible to say why it crashed," he told reporters in New Delhi.
The bodies were being flown to Hyderabad and a state funeral was planned for Friday, Chidambaram said.
Reddy, who was surveying drought conditions in some of the remote parts of the state, was accompanied by a bodyguard, an aide and two pilots.
Reddy, who belongs to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's ruling Congress Party, won a second term in office in May elections.
A devout Christian in Hindu-majority India, Reddy worked his way into the Congress leadership over the past three decades by taking up the cause of poor farmers and landless laborers.
"This is a huge loss for the Congress Party," said Jayanti Natarajan, a Congress spokeswoman in New Delhi.
The rebels, who say they are inspired by Chinese revolutionary leader Mao Zedong, have been fighting for more than three decades in several Indian states, including Andhra Pradesh, demanding land and jobs for agricultural laborers and the poor.
While the militants have a great deal of power in parts of rural India, they have little day-to-day control outside of isolated forests and villages.
More than 6,500 people have been killed in the violence.