India floods: Uttarakhand helicopter crash kills eight

Media playback is unsupported on your device
Media captionThe BBC's Sanjoy Majumder, who was at the airbase where the helicopter set off, reports on the crash

Eight people have been killed in northern India when a rescue helicopter involved in flood relief efforts crashed near a pilgrimage site.

The Indian Air Force says five crew members and three civilians died when the helicopter hit the side of a mountain and fell into a river.

It was on a rescue mission near Gaurikund in the state of Uttarakhand.

The army is leading the evacuation of thousands of stranded people, including pilgrims visiting holy sites.

More than 800 have died in the flooding so far.

Officials fear the death toll could rise as more bodies are recovered from remote areas. About 97,000 people have been rescued since devastating floods hit the state on 15 June.

Early monsoon rains in India are believed to be the heaviest in 80 years.

Swollen rivers have swept away entire villages in Uttarakhand, where there were many travellers in what is peak tourist season.

A spokesman for the air force in the state says the reasons for Tuesday's crash of the Russian-made Mi-17 are being investigated.

At least 45 air force helicopters are being used in the rescue effort, which has been hampered by bad weather.

Authorities were also forced to delay planned mass funerals for many of those killed and officials said the air force was unable to fly helicopters to the temple town of Badrinath to rescue 5,000 pilgrims still stuck there.

'Decomposing bodies'

But officials have said that they need to get to the affected areas urgently as time is running out for survivors.

"I just need two to three days of good weather and I can get everyone out," Air Commodore Rajesh Issar, who heads Operation Rahat (Relief), said.

Police say lots of bodies are piled up around the temple in Kedarnath and many of them have begun decomposing, the BBC's Sanjoy Majumder reports from Dehradun.

Many of them remain unidentified so they are being photographed and DNA samples are being taken and preserved for the families of those still missing, our correspondent adds.

Distraught relatives clutching photographs of missing family members have been waiting for days outside Dehradun airport hoping for news.

So extensive is the damage that, even a week after the floods and landslides, there is still no clarity on the true number of people missing or dead.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has described the situation as "distressing" and announced a 10bn rupee ($170m; £127m) aid package for Uttarakhand.

Every summer, hundreds of thousands of devout Hindus make a pilgrimage known as the Char Dham Yatra to four temple towns in Uttarakhand.

The pilgrims usually return before monsoon rains begin in July.

More on this story