At 3.33 pm on March 6, 2009, India's first civilian aircraft took off for its 49th test flight. Ten seconds later, it came crashing down, killing three Indian Air Force (IAF) pilots on board.
The SARAS PT2, developed by the Bangalore-based National Aeronautics Ltd (NAL), crashed on the outskirts of Bangalore when the pilots were checking if the aircraft's engines could be restarted mid-air.
NAL, according to the Directorate General of Civil Aviation, never informed the pilots that they should not attempt to restart the engines if the first attempt failed.
As a result, the IAF lost three of its experienced pilots — all in their mid-thirties — Wing Commander K Praveen, co-pilot Wing Commander Dipesh Shah and test engineer Squadron Leader Ilayaraja.
The multi-role 14-seater SARAS, conceived in 1990, was being developed as India’s first passenger aircraft for military and civilian use at Rs 15,000 crore. The IAF was to be the first customer and buy 15 of these 14-seater planes that could also be used as a small transport aircraft.
A year after the crash, the DGCA found serious lapses in NAL's designing, developing and execution of the project. Hindustan Times has a copy of the probe report.
"In a week, we will address all questions along with the other agencies, including the Indian Air Force, involved in the SARAS project," said NAL director A R Upadhya.
The report said the flight test director had only verbally informed the pilots: "In case of any problem during the relight attempt, no effort should be made to relight (the engines) a second time."
The DGCA also found that although NAL earlier flew two SARAS prototypes for over 100 hours since its maiden flight in 2004, it did not have any plans or procedures for exigencies.
What's more, considered to be India’s premier aeronautical design agency, NAL subcontracted the design and development part, including flight-testing analysis, to a Bangalore-based private agency, Aircraft Design and Engineering Service Ltd, without authorisation.
NAL also used uncertified propellers for the SARAS. It received the propellers in 2006 from MT Propellers of Germany, but did not declare their airworthiness or procure a provisional clearance from the DGCA.