Bengaluru, Two senior pilots of the Indian Air Force (IAF) died on Friday after a Mirage-2000 fighter crashed on a test sortie at a military airport in the city’s eastern suburb, a Defence Ministry official said.
“Two IAF pilots died from fatal injuries after a Mirage-2000 trainer aircraft crashed at the HAL airport in Bengaluru,” said the official in a statement.
The pilots were identified as Squadron Leader Samir Abrol from Ghaziabad in Uttar Pradesh and Squadron Leader Siddartha Negi from Dehradun in Uttarakhand.
“The aircraft was on an acceptance sortie after upgrade by the HAL. Investigation on the cause of the accident is being ordered,” added the statement.
The pilots, commissioned in the air force a decade ago, were on deputation as test pilots at the IAF’s Aircraft and Systems Testing Establishment (ASTE) from their respective air bases.
The crash took place around 10.30 a.m.,” an HAL official told IANS earlier.
While a detailed investigation may reveal what caused the upgraded multirole jet fighter to crash within a minute after taking off, the location of the burning wreckage in the airport periphery indicated a technical snag would have brought it down before gaining sufficient altitude.
“Though both the pilots had ejected out of a crashing aircraft, it (ejection) would have been a bit late or delayed to escape fatal injuries,” a senior IAF official told IANS on the condition of anonymity.
The state-run Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) makes and upgrades aircraft for training and combat operations of the IAF as the country’s sole defence behemoth. It also maintains and operates the military airport in the city.
Regretting the tragic crash, HAL expressed condolences to the grief-stricken families of the two pilots.
“The company has initiated an inquiry into the accident in coordination with the IAF,” HAL said in a separate statement.
The HAL-upgraded fighter was originally built by the French aerospace major Dassualt Aviation.
According to some eyewitnesses, the aircraft crashed soon after taking off from the runaway and exploded into a ball of fire, bellowing thick black smoke in the city’s eastern sky.
The HAL-run air traffic control (ATC) alerted the ground staff about the crash and the city fire brigade rushed its fire fighters to douse the flames from the wreckage in a bid to rescue the ejected pilots.
The IAF signed a $2.4-billion deal with Dassult in 2011 to upgrade its fleet of 51 Mirage-2000 fighters and extend their life span as they were bought in the 1980s.
The crash occurred just three weeks before IAF and HAL jointly host the 12th edition of the biennial Aero India air show at its Yellahanka base in the city’s northwest suburb from February 20-24.
As one of the six of its kind the world over, the 46-year-old ASTE is the IAF’s only test centre in the country for field trials of its fighters, transport aircraft and helicopters that are indigenous or imported from global aerospace majors.
The ASTE is also used by Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL), Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) and National Aerospace Laboratories (NAL) for evaluating indigenous aircraft, choppers, weapons, sub-systems and other aerospace equipment used in aerial warfare.