The Indian Air Force’s Surya Kiran aerobatics team lost one of its flying aces on the eve of the biennial Aero India air show’s 2019 edition here on Tuesday when two of the nine Hawk Mk 132 aircraft used by the team collided and crashed during a rehearsal for the event’s opening, scheduled for Wednesday.
Wing Commander Sahil Gandhi, a former Sukhoi-30 pilot, who flew as Surya Kiran 7 in the nine-aircraft aerobatics team, died. His aircraft crashed just outside Yelahanka Air Force station.
Two pilots in the second aircraft – Wing Commander Vijay Shelke and Sq Ldr Tejeshwar Singh – managed to eject before the crash.
Wing Commander Gandhi was from Hisar, Haryana. His wife and young child survive him. The family was based at Bidar air force station in Karnataka since 2015.
The injured pilots were taken to the Command Hospital, where Sq Ldr Tejeshwar Singh is being treated for multiple fractures and Wg Cdr Shelke for an eye injury.”
“At around 1150 hrs, two Hawk aircraft of Suryakiran aerobatic team of IAF crashed while practicing for the forthcoming Aero India Air show. Three pilots were occupants. Two pilots ejected and have been evacuated to the Command Hospital. Third pilot sustained fatal injuries. Damage to life and property in the vicinity of crash site is being ascertained. A Court of Inquiry will investigate the cause of the accident,’’ according to a statement from the Defence Ministry.
The Surya Kiran aerobatics team includes some of the best IAF fighter pilots.
Air Marshal R K S Bhadauria, air officer commanding in chief of IAF training command, said” “Very few teams in the world operate nine-aircraft displays. The Indian Air Force does it. When you operate a nine-aircraft flying display team, there are associated risks because these aircraft operate four to five metres from each other. There are some maneuvers that carry more risks than normal and needs lots of practice – the margin for error is low”.
In Tuesday’s case, he said” “they were doing a `mirror image’, where one aircraft flies straight and the second flies inverted over it in close proximity. This is a maneuver where the margin of error is very low. What exactly happened we will find out — whether it was an error of whether there was an issue of birds, or any other facto”.”
Tuesday’s crash was the first involving the British Hawk 132 aircraft since the Surya Kiran team moved to the aircraft in 2015. The aerobatics team suffered two major crashes while flying the HJT 16 Kiran trainers, manufactured in Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL), in 2006 and 2009.
In 2006, Wg Cdr Dheeraj Bhatia and Squadron Leader Shailendra Singh died in a crash during a practice session at Bidar air base, where the Surya Kiran team is based.
In 2009, Wg Cdr Rajpal Singh Dhaliwal died in a Kiran trainer crash after the aircraft caught fire during a regular training flight.
The Surya Kiran team flew the HJT 16 Kiran trainers at an air show for the last time at Aero India 2010, and the team was disbanded. In 2015, the team was formed again by the IAF to fly the newly imported Hawk 132 trainer aircraft. It performed for the first time as a four-aircraft stunt team during Air Force Day celebrations in October 2015.
The team grew to a six-aircraft team in 2016, and a nine-aircraft team last year. The Surya Kiran aerobatics team is usually the star attraction at Aero India show; its performance is expected to be cancelled in the wake of Tuesday’s tragedy.
The accident is the second major mishap before the biennial air shows in Bengaluru. In 2007, two Advanced Light Helicopter, the Dhruv from HAL stable ,which was part of the Sarang helicopter aerobatics team, collided and crashed during a rehearsal for the air show, killing IAF Squadron Leader Priye Sharma and injuring another pilot.