A Cheetah helicopter belonging to an Army aviation unit in Bareilly district of Uttar Pradesh crashed shortly after it took off on Wednesday morning, killing all three officers on board.
Sources said the helicopter crashed few kilometres from Bareilly around 7.45 am. They said it was on a “maintenance sortie”.
The three officers who were killed were identified as Major Abhijai Thapa, 29, Major Vikas Varyani, 29 and Captain Avinash Somavanshi, 26. According to an officer, Thapa and Somvanshi were pilots and Variyani was an engineer officer. Varyani belonged to Jaipur, Thapa was from Himachal Pradesh and Somavanshi was from Solapur in Maharashtra. Their bodies will be flown to their hometowns on Thursday, sources said.
“General Dalbir Singh, the Chief of Army Staff, and all ranks of the Indian Army express their heartfelt condolences to the grief-stricken families. We pray that god give them the courage and strength to bear this terrible loss,” said the official Twitter handle of Additional Directorate General of Public Information, IHQ of MoD (Army), confirming the identities of the three officers.
Sources said the three officers were on a maintenance sortie. “They had taken off once and landed. And when they went for another sortie, the crash happened almost immediately after the take-off. They died on the spot,” an MoD official said.
The Army has ordered an inquiry into the crash. Sources said that prima facie the cause of the crash appeared to be technical, but the exact cause will be determined only after the inquiry. “It is too early to arrive at determining the cause of the crash,” said an Army official.
The Cheetah-Alouette II is a light helicopter originally manufactured by Sud Aviation and later Aérospatiale, both of France.
The Cheetah has been extensively used in the Himalayas, where it is operating at altitudes beyond 20,000 ft and in Siachen it is the backbone of Army’s strategic military presence.
The Army has for long been pressing for the need to replace these ‘60s helicopters. In fact, in 2007, the then defence minister A K Antony had said in the Rajya Sabha that the “government proposes to withdraw Chetak and Cheetah helicopters from the Army, because the existing fleet of helicopters is of 1960s and 1970s vintage and hence, inadequate for the present operational requirement of the Indian Army”.
Notable accidents involving Cheetah-
January 2003- an Army Aviation Cheetah crashed in Baroda. An inquiry established technical defect as the cause
A Cheetah helicopter of the Indian Air Force (IAF) crashed on April 22, 2004 near LoC in Jammu and Kashmir. The cause of the crash was Human Error.
May 2012 – An army pilot was killed and another injured when the Cheetah helicopter they were flying crashed on the Siachen Glacier, the world’s highest battlefield.