Evidence suggests wheels gave way; blackbox retrieved

A police officer inspects the wreckage of the Mirage-2000 fighter aircraft after it crash landed at HAL airport, soon after taking-off for a training sortie in Bengaluru on Friday. (DH Photo/ B H Shivakumar)

Lending credence to an Indian Air Force personnel’s eyewitness account at the Mirage 2000 crash site, preliminary reports indicate that the upgraded aircraft’s wheels broke away, forcing the jet to go past the arrester barrier on the HAL Airport runway.

Piloted by Squadron Leaders Samir Abrol and Siddhartha Negi, the Mirage 2000 was on a take-off roll on the runway, when a main oleo leg of the undercarriage broke. This information, obtained from IAF sources by an insider, tallies with what an IAF personnel told DH on Friday.

Both pilots had ejected but could not survive as their parachutes caught fire, causing fatal burns.

The mortal remains of Sqn Ldr Negi were buried on Saturday at the city’s Kalpalli cemetery. The body of Sqn Ldr Abrol was flown to his native place in Ghaziabad in Uttar Pradesh.

The oleo leg/strut is a pneumatic air-oil hydraulic shock absorber used on the aircraft’s landing gear. The impact of this part breaking out at great speed was such that the aircraft veered off the runway. Other wheels and legs then broke and the fighter went past the arrester barrier.

Upgraded by HAL, the aircraft had already completed six sorties by the aviation major’s test pilots. The ill-fated flight was the second of the acceptance sorties carried out by the two squadron leaders, both attached to the IAF’s Aircraft and Systems Testing Establishment (ASTE).

For the second sortie, the aircraft reportedly had a heavy configuration with drop tanks. In an independent analysis, a test pilot interpreted that the aircraft did lift off but fell back on the runway. The main landing gear (MLG) collapsed on impact, and this forced the aircraft to careen on the runway, tearing through the arrester barrier at the end of the runway.

Black box recovered

Meanwhile, an IAF spokesperson confirmed that the flight data recorder (black box) was recovered from the crash site by a team of officials from the Air Force and Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL). The two agencies have already launched a joint probe into the incident.

HAL refuted reports that a technical snag had caused the accident. A clear picture is expected to emerge only after completion of the joint inquiry.

The Mirage 2000 upgrade programme was launched at HAL in 2015. The IAF had sought upgradation of 49 jets. The parent company, Dassault Aviation had delivered two, and HAL was tasked with upgrading the rest.

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Evidence suggests wheels gave way; blackbox retrieved

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