Tribune News Service
New Delhi, May 20
Even as an inquiry into the February 27 crash of an Mi-17 helicopter at Budgam near Srinagar nears completion, the Indian Air Force has removed the Air Officer Commanding (AOC) of the Srinagar air base — a move to show that procedural lapses will not go unpunished.
All six airmen on board the helicopter and a civilian on ground were killed. The helicopter was downed by a surface-to-air missile (SAM) of IAF, which assumed the helicopter to be a hostile platform.
The Russian-made copter crashed at 10.05 am — around the same time as Indian and Pakistani fighters were engaging each other over Nowshera in Jammu and Kashmir. Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman’s jet was downed around 10.30 am.
The AOC of IAF base is the seniormost officer.
An ongoing inquiry into the accident has indicated lapses leading to the accident. The Air Traffic Control had called back the helicopter as an air duel between Indian and Pakistani jets escalated. This is being seen as a lapse as the helicopter should have been sent away to a safer zone instead of being called back to Srinagar. Also, as the copter was returning, it should have been made to land at the designated safe spot.
On ground, the missile system and air defence guns fire away at aircraft or helicopters which can’t be identified.
The crucial identification or the Friend or Foe (IFF) system on the Mi-17 helicopter was switched off, which was against laid down procedures. The IFF is a system on board a helicopter or plane that automatically transmits a unique identification signal.
That the IFF would remain mandatorily switched on was a decision taken last year after a near mid-air accident between a Sukhoi-30 fighter jet and a transport plane of the IAF. Though the IAF issued instructions that the IFF system should be switched on, the Srinagar air base had issued contradictory orders.
Sources said the IAF could consider criminal charges against those found having committed lapses.
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