Mi-17 crash: Friendly Fire

At least one senior IAF officer and three others are likely to face stringent disciplinary action for the grave operational lapses that led to “friendly fire” bringing down the Mi-17 helicopter at Budgam on February 27, around the same time Indian and Pakistani fighter jets were engaged in a dogfight in the Nowshera sector along the Line of Control about 100-km away.

The IAF on Tuesday said the court of inquiry into the Mi-17 crash, which killed six IAF personnel and a civilian on that fateful day at 10.10 am, is still in progress. “We cannot say anything till the CoI reaches a conclusion…it is premature,” said spokesperson Group Captain Anupam Banerjee.

But sources said it has been established that an Israeli SpyDer quick-reaction anti-aircraft missile fired by the air defence unit of the Srinagar airbase brought down the Mi-17 in a matter of just 12 seconds from the launch. “It was a tragic ‘blue on blue’ incident, which are not unusual in the fog of war,” said a source.

“The entire chain of events and the lapses must, however, be conclusively established before any personnel is charged with ‘culpable homicide not amounting to murder’ or something else. With the helicopter’s flight data recorder (black box) missing, the CoI is still minutely examining the available forensic and other evidence,” he added.

The air officer commanding of the Srinagar base, an Air Commodore (equivalent to a Brigadier in Army), has already been transferred out, while the role of the second-in-command, the chief operations officer, is being examined closely. “The COO, a Group Captain, was the terminal weapons director in charge of air defence at that time,” said another source.

The entire air defence network in J&K was on a hair-trigger alert, with guns and missiles on a “weaponsfree status” to fire at “any unauthorized aircraft” in the region, during the retaliatory intrusion across the LoC by Pakistani fighters, a day after IAF conducted the predawn strikes on the JeM training camp at Balakot on February 26.

After the CoI reaches a definitive conclusion, it will be followed by a “summary of evidence” (akin to framing of charges) and finally a court martial or the actual trial, as per the military legal system.

No comments: