SRINAGAR: On a day Pakistan captured a fighter pilot, the Indian Air force received another jolt when six of its men were killed as the Mi-17 transport chopper they were flying in crashed in Garend Kalaan village in central Kashmir’s Budgam district on Wednesday. A civilian was also killed in the crash.
It was not clear how the chopper fell down, some 10 km from the Srinagar airport, at around 10.10 am and broke into two, instantly catching fire.
The chopper had taken off from Srinagar Technical Airport, Additional Deputy Commissioner, Khurshid Ahmad Shah said.
Villagers who had seen the chopper swaying and seen it fall rushed to the site of the crash but could not help the six men trapped inside as it exploded in a ball of fire. Police said it had recovered seven bodies near the crash site of Mi-17.
“It is not clear how the chopper crashed. Six persons have died of which six were IAF personnel on board the helicopter while one was a civilian of the village. There was no other damage since it fell outside the village in an open ground,” Shah said.
The civilian identified as Kifayat Ahmad Ganai, 30, was at the spot by pure chance and came under the rotor even as he was speaking on a mobile phone, some 200 feet away from the nearby habitation, police added.
Local resident Ghulam Ahmad said he heard two blasts and rushed out to see what happened. “I saw the chopper on the ground and on fire. People tried to rescue the trapped men. There was, however, no way to retrieve the bodies because of flames.”
IAF and police officials rushed in with a state disaster management force (SDRF) fire fighting unit to take out the bodies of the pilot, the co-pilot, besides that of the civilian and the area was sealed. The bodies of the rest were recovered in a charred state by an army contingent but their identification could not be done.
Deputy Inspector General of Police, Central Kashmir, V K Birdi said he reached the spot immediately after hearing the sound and found that the chopper was in flames, which IAF officers put down to a technical fault, adding the actual cause will only be revealed by forensics. The IAF towed away the remains for examination.
Birdi said the reason for the crash remained a matter of investigation and it would be premature to guess.
‘Pilot tried hard to avoid the village’
People at the village saw the helicopter swaying away from over the village and into the field where it crashed. “It seems the pilot tried hard to avoid the village, otherwise there would have been dozens of civilian casualties,” said Ghulam Mir, a local resident.