Two IAF jets crash in training, 1 pilot dead
The aircraft took off from the Gwalior airbase for a routine operational flying training mission when the rare collision happened, the IAF officials said
The Indian Air Force lost a top combat pilot in a possible mid-air collision between a Sukhoi-30 and a Mirage 2000, which left two other pilots injured, in Madhya Pradesh’s Morena district on Saturday, IAF officials said.
The aircraft took off from the Gwalior airbase for a routine operational flying training mission when the rare collision happened, the IAF officials said, adding that the force has launched a probe into the accident.
“Two fighter aircraft of IAF were involved in an accident near Gwalior today morning. The aircraft were on a routine operational flying training mission,” IAF said in a statement.
While the two Sukhoi-30 pilots ejected safely, the Mirage 2000 pilot perished in the crash, the officials said.
“One of the three pilots involved, sustained fatal injuries. An inquiry has been ordered to determine the cause of the accident,” IAF statement said.
The air force identified the deceased pilot as Wing Commander Hanumanth Rao Sarathi. He was a directing staff at the elite Tactics and Air Combat Development Establishment (TACDE) at Gwalior, an IAF official said asking not to be named. Both aircraft were from TACDE, the official said.
“IAF deeply regrets to inform that Wg Cdr Hanumanth Rao Sarathi suffered fatal injuries during the accident. All air warriors and the fraternity stand strongly with the bereaved family,” IAF statement said condoling the loss of life.
IAF chief Air Chief Marshal VR Chaudhari briefed defence minister Rajnath Singh on the accident, said the second IAF official cited above.
The defence minister offered condolences to Sarathi’s family.
“Deeply anguished by the loss of brave air warrior, Wg Cdr Hanumanth Rao Sarathi, who suffered fatal injuries during an accident near Gwalior. My deepest condolences to his bereaved family. We stand by his family in this difficult hour,” Singh wrote on Twitter.
The impact of the collision was such that the wreckage of the two jets was found in two different locations.
While the wreckage of Sarathi’s French-origin Mirage 2000 was found in Manpur village of Morena district, the debris of the Russian-origin Sukhoi-30 was found in Rajasthan’s Bharatpur district, officials in Madhya Pradesh said.
Locals in the area said they heard a loud explosion at around 10am.
“We saw two parachutes coming down. The planes exploded in a ball of fire. One fell in a nearby forest while the other went towards Rajasthan,” said Shailendra Shakya, sarpanch of Pahargarh village in Morena.
The two pilots landed in the Pahargarh village, nearly four kilometres away from where the debris of the Mirage was found, Shakya said.
“They were stuck in a thicket and sustained injuries. We brought them down, and laid them on the ground till an IAF helicopter airlifted them,” he said.
Morena additional superintendent of police Rai Singh Narwariya said, “The body of the pilot was found in the wreckage.”
An IAF team reached the spot and cordoned off the area, said Morena district collector Ankit Asthana.
Madhya Pradesh chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan said he has instructed the local administration to cooperate with IAF in the rescue and relief operation.
“The news of the crash of Sukhoi-30 and Mirage 2000 aircraft of the air force near Kolaras in Morena is very sad. I have instructed the local administration to cooperate with the air force for quick rescue and relief work. I pray to God that the pilots of the planes are safe,” he said.
TACDE is the IAF’s premier combat development institution where hand-picked pilots are trained to become fighter leaders, said Air Marshal Anil Chopra (retd), director general, Centre for Air Power Studies.
“It is unfortunate that we lost one of our outstanding pilots in the accident. Fighter flying has its inherent risks, and during combat training accidents can take place,” Chopra said.
The accident comes four years after a mid-air collision of two planes rehearsing for an aerobatic show near Bengaluru’s Yelahanka airbase in February 2019.
One pilot was killed and two others injured were in the crash of two Hawk advanced jet trainers of the IAF’s Surya Kiran Aerobatic Display Team. The British-origin jets were rehearsing complex manoeuvres that were to be performed during the five-day airshow, Aero India-2019.
Some fighter jets from the Gwalior air base were among the IAF fighter package that carried out air strikes against a Jaish-e-Mohammed terror base in Pakistan’s Balakot on February 26, 2019. The strikes were India’s response to the Pulwama suicide car bomb attack in which 40 Central Reserve Police Force men were killed on February 14, 2019.
The Mirage 2000s carried out the pre-dawn air strike on the Jaish camp and are among the most reliable fighter jets in IAF. Inducted into the air force in 1984, the single-engine fighters performed splendidly during the 1999 Kargil war and recorded an impressive serviceability rate. IAF ordered 59 Mirage 2000 jets from France.
Inducted in the late 1990s, IAF ordered 272 Sukhoi-30s from Russia and more than 10 of those jets have been lost in accidents.
In 2002, two IL-38 long-range patrol aircraft of the navy were involved in a mid-air collision in Goa, an accident that killed 12 personnel.