At least 42 Indian armed forces personnel have been killed in 45 accidents involving aircraft and helicopters in the last five years, according to data provided by the Ministry of Defence in Rajya Sabha on Monday. The Indian Air Force (IAF) counts 29 of them while the Army and Navy saw 12 and four respectively.
The last year has been particularly tragic for the defence forces as there have been more than 20 fatalities among armed forces personnel in over a dozen aircraft accidents. Here's a look at the major accidents in the Indian armed forces since 2021:
Coonoor Helicopter crash
The Indian Air Force helicopter crash that claimed the life of India’s first Chief of Defence Staff General Bipin Rawat, his wife Madhulika Rawat, and 12 other armed forces personnel, remains the deadliest and most high-profile military air accident in recent memory.
Preliminary findings of a tri-services inquiry found that the accident was caused by entry into clouds due to unexpected change in weather that led to spatial disorientation of the pilot, resulting in "controlled flight into terrain". Mechanical failure, sabotage, and negligence were ruled out.
A "controlled flight into terrain" is a type of crash when the aircraft is in positive control of the pilot. A major factor is loss of situational awareness, which includes the failure to know at all times the position of the aircraft, its relationship to the altitude of the surface immediately below or ahead, and how both of these elements relate to the course being flown.
Indian Army Helicopter crashes
The Indian Army has witnessed multiple aircraft crashes in the last year.
- On 11 March, a Cheetah helicopter on its way to pick up sick BSF personnel crashed near the Line of Control in north Kashmir's Gurez Sector, causing the death of its co-pilot and critically injuring the pilot.
- In September 2021, a Cheetah helicopter crashed in the Shivgarh Dhar area near the tourist spot of Patni Top in the Udhampur district of Jammu and Kashmir. Both the pilots were killed in the accident.
- In August 2021, a Rudra helicopter crashed into the Ranjit Sagar Dam lake near Punjab's Pathankot district, killing two pilots. While it took 12 days to recover the body of the pilot, it took almost two-and-a-half months to recover the remains of the co-pilot.
Indian Air Force accidents
Five MiG-21 aircraft crashed in 2021, resulting in the deaths of three pilots.
In addition to MiG-21, the other aircraft that crashed last year included a Mirage 2000, two Dhruv Advanced Light Helicopters, two Mi-17s, and a Cheetah helicopter, according to an analysis by The Print.
The analysis noted that 2021 witnessed more than twice the number of accidents in 2020. Five accidents took place in 2020.
No increase in casualties, says government
Meanwhile, the Ministry of Defence said in Rajya Sabha that no increase in deaths in military aircraft accidents has been observed.
“During the current financial year, the number of personnel that have died was more as 13 defence personnel died in one Indian Air Force Helicopter crash on December 8, 2021,” said the defence ministry, referring to the accident involving the helicopter carrying CDS General Rawat.
(With PTI inputs)