Amid criticism, a HAL test pilot offers defence

Amid criticism, a HAL test pilot offers defence

The wreckage of the Mirage-2000 fighter aircraft after it crash landed, at HAL airport runway, soon after take-off for a training sortie in Bengaluru on Friday,

Under fire from various quarters over Friday's Mirage 2000 crash that killed two pilots, the Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) had its own test pilot declare on Sunday: "When you blame HAL, you are not blaming a nameless, faceless organisation, but the blame lies squarely on my shoulders. I feel I deserve a fair inquiry before being blamed."

Preferring to remain unnamed since an investigation is on, the test pilot said he was an eyewitness to the accident. Upgraded by HAL, the Mirage 2000 was thoroughly tested before it was delivered to the Indian Air Force (IAF) for its acceptance sorties. "We fly these aircraft to its limits before anyone from IAF touches it," he said in a note, accessed by DH.

The Mirage 2000 had undergone six test sorties, all flown by the HAL test pilots. Indicating that the aircraft was fully fit for flight, the test pilot, who is also a retired IAF officer, said: "Before an aircraft goes to IAF, its standards are good enough for me to bet my life on it. Remember, every pilot in IAF is also betting his life on my judgement."

Once a Mirage is overhauled by HAL, the aircraft is offered to the in-house test pilots for flight testing. "We test it rigorously and only when satisfied, hand the aircraft over to the Aircraft and Systems Testing Establishment (ASTE), the flight test agency of IAF. We ensure that the aircraft meets all safety and performance parameters before we hand it over to ASTE," the test pilot explained.

The first sortie by ASTE was flown by Squadron Leader Samir Abrol. "This sortie had only three words of debrief over the phone: 'everything okay sir'. The second sortie was to be flown with a target aircraft to check radar performance, a comparatively benign profile." 

As an eyewitness to Friday’s air crash, the HAL test pilot said he was impressed with some HAL civilians risking their lives to pull out the pilot from the burning wreckage. "The other pilot had fallen clear of the wreckage. When we reached him, he was still breathing, but unconscious. To me, it looked like he would make it. But internal injuries claimed him on the way to hospital," he recalled.

On what exactly caused the crash, the test pilot's view was this: "There could be any number of reasons ranging from technical defect, maintenance failure to pilot error. As of now, there are more questions than answers." 

Squadron Leaders Abrol and Siddhartha Negi were killed in the crash, although they ejected out. Their parachute had caught fire, causing them fatal burns.