Wednesday, Sep 03, 2003
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By Sandeep Dikshit
Normally, the IAF releases a terse statement on what led to a crash. But at a two-hour briefing today, prefaced by the IAF chief, S. Krishnaswamy's observations, it gave the exact sequence of the last 88 seconds before a MiG-21 crashed in Srinagar, killing both the pilots. A veteran pilot, S. Barbora, also explained the method of the inquiry and how the IAF left no aspect unexplored in order to take remedial measures.
The briefing brought alive the desperate bid by the pilots in the mere three seconds at hand to correct the slight error of judgment during night time battle inoculation training. The senior pilot, R. Rastogi, had just returned safely from a similar exercise in which the plane makes a circuit of the airbase and overshoots the runway. But this time as the plane was hugging the runway; the trainee pilot began climbing a little steeper than normal. The "premature climb initiation" proved fatal at Srinagar where engine response is poorer than normal because of its high altitude.
"Few air forces in the world operate at those heights. In this game of fighter aviation, small errors of judgment can lead to disasters. The pilots made a gallant bid to level the aircraft while skimming just 100 metres over the runway but other factors compounded the error of opening the throttle early to gain height. Had it been daytime, they would have lowered the nose to gain height but they couldn't take the risk at night," reasoned Air Commodore Barbora, reputed to be an expert trainer of rookie pilots on MiG-21.
With no more energy left to counter the drag factor, the left wing of the "U-3284" fighter first touched the ground as was deduced from the recovery of an antenna in the scrub near the runway. It bounced to the right and glided on its belly across a drain where a visor of a pilot was found. Still racing at over 300 kmph, it started breaking up after hitting the embankment of a second drain. The scorched grass confirmed the first signs of fire. The right wing twisted and cannoned off to the plane's left. Somewhere the ejection seats fired "we don't know whether that was by design or impact, but it was too late" and the bodies were recovered 250 metres from the point of first impact. Air Commodore Barbora said it took 100 personnel to scour the airbase at least 10 times and several photographs from the air to build the sequence of events.
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