May 23, 2019 3:19:56 am
JAGDISH CHAND Kasal, father of late Squadron Leader Siddharth Vashisht, refused to say anything about the ongoing Court of Inquiry (CoI) into the crash of the Air Force Mi-17 helicopter in ‘friendly fire’, coinciding with the air engagement between India and Pakistan on the Line of Control (LoC) on February 27 but a close relative claimed that Siddharth had seen the missile and had even alerted the air traffic controller (ATC).
While security experts are saying that the pilot had not put the IFF (Identify Friend or Foe) switch on; and that the ATC had failed to direct the helicopter into the designated safe entry channel for the base when enemy aircraft were being engaged a few kilometres away, a relative who did not want to be identified, said, “IAF pilots use the IFF switch when they go out of the range of ATC or when they return. But in case of Siddharth, the Mi-17 chopper was within the limits of the ATC. Before crashing, Siddharth had noticed the missile and alerted the ATC. His audio was also recorded.”
A relative said they knew something was amiss right from the first call they received from IAF officials. “The official had said that he will not be able to divulge any details on the phone,’’ said the relative. “It was evident to the family since the beginning that the chopper had not crashed due to any technical fault, it had been hit by something.’’
Siddharth’s parents Jagdish Chand Kasal and his wife visited Srinagar recently. They went to the place where the Mi-17 was downed and even spoke to some eyewitnesses.
Siddharth’s wife Aarti is a squadron leader. She was also posted in Srinagar at the time of the incident. Siddharth was the only son of his parents and is the youngest of three sisters. The family lives in Sector 44.
A fourth-generation member from his family in the armed forces and an alumnus of DAV College, Sector 10, Vashisht, 31, was commissioned into the IAF in 2010, and had received commendation for his role in the rescue operation during the Kerala floods.
The inquiry into the crash followed reports that the helicopter, which was returning from a routine logistics mission to Tangdhar, was shot down by a Spyder surface-to-air missile fired from the Srinagar air base around 10 am, when Pakistan had attempted an airstrike at military installations in Rajouri sector of J&K. The IAF was then at its highest alert following the Indian airstrike on a Jaish terror camp in Balakot, Pakistan, a day earlier.
The black box of the helicopter has not been found.
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