Wednesday, April 26, 2000,
Chandigarh, India


M A I N   N E W S

Pilot killed in MiG-23 crash
From Jupinder Singh
Tribune News Service

BIRDHNO (PATIALA), April 25 — A MIG-23 fighter plane crashed near this village, 40 km from Patiala this morning, killing its pilot, Sqn Ldr Raj Kumar.

The plane had taken off from Halwara air base in Ludhiana just before 8 am and crashed about 20 minutes later near the village. No injury to any villager or harm to property was reported. Fire did spread in small tracts of ripe wheat fields, but was soon doused by the villagers.

Talking to a team of newsmen, panic stricken villagers were all praise for the pilot, who laid down his life to protect their lives and avoid damage to a Sirhind feeder canal.

According to eye-witness accounts, the plane had caught fire in the air and suddenly dipped down over the village, causing alarm among the villagers, who ran helter-skelter. Mr Kaka Singh, ex-sarpanch of the village, said the pilot however, managed to save the plane from crashing for few minutes and kept encircling the village a couple of times.

The Deputy Commissioner, Mr Jasbir Singh Bir, said the pilot did a commendable job by not only saving the villagers but also avoiding crashing into a Sirhind feeder canal flowing nearby which could have resulted in more damage. He said by the time the pilot bailed out, he was almost half-burnt. His parachute also caught fire and he hit the ground, resulting in severe head injury. Villagers said the right side of the pilot’s body was badly burnt.

Fire engines from Patiala were rushed to the crash site but they did not have much work at hand as the villagers had already extinguished the fire in the wheat fields and the debris of the plane. Helicopters from Bathinda, Ambala and Halwara also reached the spot.

The body of the 31-year-old Squadron Leader has been taken to Halwara air base. The cause of fire that broke out in the plane could not be ascertained. The fate of the black box was also not known.

Incidentally, this is the fourth air crash in Patiala district in the past about one year. The earlier crashes, all involving fighter planes, occurred at Dhakauli village near Chandigarh, Samana and Banur town.

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