November 11, 2004
With the death of Flight Lieutenant Neehar Gururani last night, the Indian Air Force has lost its second pilot in a Mirage-2000 crash.
Gururani’s aircraft hit the ground, about 50 km from the Gwalior air base, on Tuesday. With this crash, the IAF has lost six Mirage-2000 jets so far — three of which went down in the past two months alone.
IAF Vice-Chief Air Marshal S.K. Malik said today that preliminary evidence show the pilot may have been ‘‘disoriented’’ due to the darkness, as there was no evidence to suggest technical or engine failure. Reports on Monday night had said the pilot was safe, but when the rescue team reached the site, they found Gururani’s body.
The Air Headquarters has sent its new DG Flight Inspection & Safety, Air Marshal P.S. Ahluwalia, there to probe the reasons behind the recent series of Mirage crashes. The three crashes this year have cost the IAF at least Rs 360 crore. ‘‘The crashes are surprising indeed. The Mirage continues to be our finest fighter,’’ Malik said.
Sources at Mirage-maker Dassault’s Delhi office told The Indian Express, ‘‘We are waiting for a formal report from the IAF on the crash. From the information we have received, it seems possible that the pilot was disoriented, which is why he may not have pushed the panic button.’’ They added that their information indicated that it was possible that the pilot was flying upside down — a routine during training sorties — and may have thought he was ascending when he was actually rapidly losing altitude.
The two-plane formation’s leader had sounded an alert when Gururani did not respond to radio signals and disappeared from the radar screen. When the second pilot also failed to reach Gururani, he retraced his path to find a ball of fire on the ground. His planned altitude was 3,000 feet.
The deceased pilot was the son of Air Marshal S. Gururani, who retired in 1997 as Commander of the IAF’s Maintenance Command. What the deceased’s father had once said at a seminar in 1998 now seems ironic, ‘‘We need a considerably magnified effort in aircraft life extension, otherwise we run the risk of utilising very costly aircraft fleets sub-optimally.’’ The Vice-Chief said the Mirage fleet was not yet up for upgradation, though.
Malik said, ‘‘We’ve seen his reports. He was a good pilot and an enthusiastic boy. It is rather unnerving that this has happened.’’ The IAF has shopped for 10 new Mirages to make up for the crashes and an additional squadron is expected to arrive by the year-end. The Defence Ministry is also considering Qatar’s offer of 10 of its own Mirages.
The Mirage will compete with other multi-role fighters for the IAF’s planned 124 multi-role aircraft purchase. Malik said the Eurofighter and Swedish jets (like the Saab Gripen) would be part of the tender process if they fit the bill. The IAF is considering the US offer for C-130 transport planes.
The last Mirage-2000 crash on Oct 12 is still being investigated. The trainer’s turbine blade which came loose has been sent to the National Metallurgical Lab in Jamshedpur, after which it will be sent to France for examination.
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