Saturday, May 4, 2002, Chandigarh, India

National Capital Region--Delhi


M A I N   N E W S

8 die in MiG-21 crash
Jet falls on bank building in Jalandhar
Varinder Singh
Tribune News Service

The Punjab Chief Minister, Capt Amarinder Singh, and the Governor, Lt-Gen JFR Jacob, inspect the site
The Punjab Chief Minister, Capt Amarinder Singh, and the Governor, Lt-Gen JFR Jacob, inspect the site where a MiG-21 crash-landed in Jalandhar on Friday morning.

Army personnel catch hold of mangled remains
Army personnel catch hold of mangled remains of the MiG-21. — Photos J. S. Malhotra

Jalandhar, May 3
Seven employees of a bank and a labourer were killed when a MiG-21 crash-landed and ripped apart the Bank of Rajasthan building in the thickly populated area of the city near the jail this morning. As many as 17 persons were injured in the accident. The MiG-21 Indian Air Force plane piloted by Flt-Lieut S. K. Naik had converted into a monstrous fireball when it dashed against the building. The pilot baled out safely.

The MiG-21 is said to have developed a serious technical snag just 5 minutes after it took off from the Adampur Air Force airbase. It crashed into the building around 10 a.m. when bank employees and shopkeepers of the area had barely reached their places of work.

MiG-21s are referred to as “flying coffins” in IAF parlance. It is learnt that the IAF has suspended all MiG-21 flight training operations for an indefinite period.

The big bang instantaneously triggered off uncontrollable fire flames, which devoured eight lives and left 17 seriously injured, apart from causing a huge loss of property in the residential-cum-commercial area. Five of the seriously injured persons have been shifted to CMC, Ludhiana, for treatment.

The mishap exposed the short-sightedness of the police and the haplessness of the ill-equipped local Municipal Corporation even as residents of the area initiated the rescue operation within minutes of the incident.

Deputy Commissioner K. Siva Prasad, DIG Jalandhar Range Dinkar Gupta, Commissioner Jalandhar Division R.S. Sandhu were among those who reached the spot immediately after the incident and coordinated the rescue operations launched separately by the police, Air Force, Army and Municipal Corporation Fire Brigade authorities. The front part of the bank building and the adjoining plywood shop were destroyed with the ear-piercing explosion igniting them. The people of the area were too shocked to realise that what had crashed into the building was a huge part of a MiG-21, probably its engine and fuel tank. Only when news came that the pilot, Flt-Lieut Naik, had baled out they got to know. Mr H. S. Nanda, Divisional Excise and Taxation Commissioner, helped the pilot after he was found lying in a semi-conscious state near his residence along with his parachute.

The pilot said he heard some unusual noise followed by an explosion in the engine, forcing him to bale out. Flt-Lieut Naik was later taken to Military Hospital.

An Air Force team has landed from Delhi. The team visited the Civil Hospital, where most of the injured have been admitted.

The Punjab Governor, Lieut-Gen J. F. R. Jacob (retd), and the Chief Minister, Capt Amarinder Singh, also visited the mishap site and the hospital. The injured were assured that they would be provided assistance.

According to Mr K. Siva Prasad, Deputy Commissioner, the dead included six bank employees — Assistant Manager Rakesh Bali, security guard Pal Singh, sweeper Dharampal and his wife Veena, Des Raj and Deepak, sweepers. The labourer who died was identified as Prem Pal.

Those injured included Ram Lal, Rajesh Kumar, Narendra Kumar, Omesh, Rakesh Kumar, Ishwinder Singh, Jaspal, Rakesh Kumar, Panna Lal, Raju and Jagbir Singh. They have been admitted to the local Civil Hospital. The four persons seriously injured who were shifted to CMC Ludhiana are bank Manager V. K. Mathur and Assistant Manager S. K. Kanaujia, Prem Singh and Sham Lal Yadav.

Recounting the unfolding of events, Mr Tehal Singh, a resident of the area, said he heard a loud explosion followed by the plane parts landing on the bank. “The explosion was so loud that I could not hear anything for 15 minutes. The building caught fire. I could not understand what had happened. Some parts of the plane even landed on my home,” he said. Mr Kuldip Kumar, another eyewitness and who was among the first few persons to reach the spot, alleged that police officials slapped him and some others when they were trying to rescue people trapped in the bank by breaking the wall.

Ishwinder Singh, a 17-year-old boy, Rakesh Kumar and Jagbir Singh were injured while rescuing the victims. Rakesh said after he had helped five persons he was injured when a waterpipe broke and hit him in the head. Ishwinder Singh, who is in the Intensive Care Unit, said a rescue team comprising a number of residents, had to break the wall shared by the bank and a factory to extricate three persons trapped in the bank building. “It was all smoke and nothing else. I also inhaled it,” said Jagbir Singh, a private security guard, who received injuries during the rescue operation.

Chaos reigned when The Tribune team reached the mishap site. A group of people were busy breaking the pipe of a nearby jail tubewell to enable firemen get water. Some mediapersons and lensmen who had gone to the place for coverage of the mishap were allegedly manhandled and roughed up.

Hundreds of people who had converged on the site and even residents of the area, were herded away by cane-wielding policemen, headed by Inspector Daljinder Singh Dhillon.

It was a day of shock and confusion for Neelam Mathur, wife of bank Manager V. K. Mathur, and her teenaged daughter, who had come here two days ago to meet Mr Mathur from Delhi. “I don’t know what will happen to my husband. He had left home just 15 minutes before the accident. Nobody is telling me what happened,” said a sobbing Mrs Mathur, standing near the bank building. Mr Mathur has been shifted to the CMC Ludhiana in a serious state.

Bimla lost her daughter Veena and son-in-law Dharampal, both working as sweepers with the bank. She said Veena had not even had her breakfast. “She had promised to return within half-an-hour after cleaning the office. But she will never come now. Who will look after her daughter and two sons?” said Bimla, with tears rolling down her face.

Harbhajan Kaur, wife of Pal Singh, security guard who perished in the incident, said her husband had left his Dayalpur village on cycle at 7 a.m for the office. Pal Singh is survived by three sons.

“We came to know about the incident and death of my son-in-law Rakesh Bali, Assistant Manager, when somebody rang us up at home,” said Capt Chanchal Singh. Bali is survived by one daughter and one son.

Meanwhile, Capt Amarinder Singh today said that he would request the Defence Ministry to avoid air exercises over built and congested areas, particularly the cities, adds UNI. Accompanying him, the Governor expressed grief at the tragedy and conveyed their condolences to the bereaved families.

While the Governor announced a grant of Rs 50,000 to each of the injured, the CM said a grant of Rs 2 lakh would be given to next of the kin of each dead. He also announced that the value of the property damaged in crash would be assessed for compensation.



CM announces grant

CAPT Amarinder Singh today announced an ex gratia grant of Rs 2 lakh each for the kin of those killed in the crash.

The state government would also provide Rs 50,000 each to the injured. Those who suffered loss to property would also be compensated. The Chief Minister said that the government would recommend the Air Force authorities not to fly defence planes over built-up areas in the cities to avert such incidents.

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