In one of the worst air tragedies, the Indian Air Force lost nine personnel on Thursday as two of its helicopters, on routine training sortie, collided near the Jamnagar air base in Gujarat, in what is being termed as the first mid-air collision of two helicopters of the force. The two Russian-built Mi-17 helicopters took off from the base at 12 pm and crashed five minutes later near Sarmat range, eight km from the base.
According to sources, the two choppers were flying in close formation as required by mission objectives.
Nine people on board — including two pilots, co-pilots and crew members — perished. “The pilots were senior officers belonging to the Tactics and Air Combat Development Establishment. Three Wing Commanders, a Squadron Leader, a Flying Officer and four other ranks were onboard the ill-fated copters,” sources added.
Prima facie it seemed to be a mid-air collision but the exact reason behind the crash can’t be ascertained before a court of inquiry. After the collision, one of the helicopters was said to have caught fire. “Immediately, a helicopter was rushed to the site to evacuate survivors. Only three people could be evacuated, but nobody survived the tragedy,” sources said.
The pilots, from the Gwalior air base, had gone to Jamnagar as part of training. “There can be 100 reasons behind the collision. It could be a technical malfunction, air drift, vibrations or human error. In formations, helicopters do fly close. During display, some machines fly even as close as 10 metres from each other,” a military aviator said.