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Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Mourned Following Death in Helicopter Crash


After a nearly 24-hour search that involved sophisticated aircraft, satellites, commandos and even spear-toting tribal villagers, the wreckage of a helicopter carrying an influential Indian politician was spotted on the slope of a jungle hill. The death of the well-respected Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Y.S.R. Reddy is a blow for India's governing Congress Party.

National flags across India will be flown at half-staff Friday to mourn the death of the chief minister of the key southern state of Andhra Pradesh.

The funeral of Y.S Rajasekhara Reddy will be attended by Congress Party boss, Sonia Gandhi and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. Standing beside each other in New Delhi the two called the chief minister an outstanding leader for the 75 million people of his state, as well as the nation.

"For us it is a huge loss. It is a loss for the party. It is a loss for all of us, his colleagues, for the state of Andhra Pradesh and for the country," said Gandhi.

"He devised a large number of programs for the benefit of farmers, for the benefit of downtrodden people, for health care, for self-help groups of women," said Singh.

Those programs include free electrical power for farms and supplying bottled mineral water to villages.

Hundreds of distraught supporters prayed and wept in front of his residence in Hyderabad when confirmation came of his death.

Reddy - a devout Christian in a Hindu-majority country - turned from medicine to politics in his home state and became one of the most influential leaders in the Congress Party. In his state, he was noted for traveling to the most remote regions of Andhra Pradesh to understand the living conditions of his poorest constituents.

The chief minister's body was found by the Indian Air Force at the site where his helicopter crashed Wednesday. Army commandos dropped from a helicopter examined the mangled and burnt wreckage on the slope of a heavily-forested hill, in an area infested with Maoist rebels.

The Bell 430 helicopter disappeared while flying through a heavy rain storm, en route to an unannounced inspection of a local district.

Just before lifting off from Hyderabad, the chief minister spoke to reporters.

Reddy said he wanted to make surprise inspections to check the effectiveness of such policies as drought alleviation and unemployment.

U.S. Ambassador Timothy Roemer, issued a statement offering his condolences and hailing the chief minister "as a strong supporter of U.S.-India friendship."

Opposition parties had accused his family of amassing wealth illegally, but that did not prevent voters from returning him to power this year. The chief minister was considered the major force in delivering his state to the Congress Party, in the last two national elections. He had never had an election defeat.

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