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Cloud over cause of Sukhoi crash

india Updated: Oct 23, 2014 00:29 IST
Rahul Singh

The mystery surrounding the October 14 Sukhoi-30 MKI crash near Pune has deepened.

A day after HT reported that Indian Air Force’s entire fleet of 200 Su-30 MKI had been grounded for safety checks on ejection seats, the IAF admitted there was a freak ejection where seats fired on their own, leading to the crash.

The IAF’s admission raises serious questions about the safety of one of the most advanced and relatively new fighters in the Indian fleet. The first variants of the plane were inducted in the late 1990s.

A top government official, however, told HT that Russian specialists assisting the probe and carrying out inspections were unwilling to believe that the ejection seats had fired without pilot command. “They insist it is impossible,” he said.

The pilots of the fighter plane had reported “automatic seat ejection,” as first reported by HT on Wednesday. One of them was involved in a previous Su-30 crash too.

“Both ejection seats had fired whilst the aircraft was coming in to land,” said an IAF release, corroborating the version of its pilots.

Former IAF chief Air Chief Marshal Fali Major said ejection seats firing on their own was a rare occurrence and could be attributed to a deep-rooted flaw. “I don’t recall any such case in the IAF, but a few cases have been reported in some other air forces,” Major said.

Asked to comment on the Russian take on the ejection seats firing without pilot command, IAF spokesperson Wing Commander Simranpal Singh Birdi said it would be inappropriate to comment till the probe was over. He said all stakeholders, including Russian experts, were part of the probe. Hindustan Aeronautics Limited assembles and repairs the Russian-origin fighter in India.

The IAF’s Su-30 planes are grappling with problems concerning repair and overhaul, mid-air engine failures and malfunctioning of mission computers and cockpit displays.

The HAL can currently overhaul only two fighters a year but hopes to increase the yearly capacity to 15 in the near future. More than 50 plants in Russia contribute to the Su-30 fighters manufactured in India under licence.