Two Advanced Jet Trainer, Hawks attached to the Surya Kiran aerobatic team collided mid-air during a practice sortie on Tuesday afternoon, killing a pilot. Two other pilots were also injured as the jets came crashing down just outside the Yelahanka Air Force Station here.
Training for the Aero-India 2019 aerospace exposition, the hugely popular aerobatic team had completed a full dress rehearsal with nine aircraft on Monday. None of the aircraft had reported any issue with the flight parameters before Tuesday's fatal crash.
While two pilots ejected to safety, Director General of Police, Fire and Emergency Services, M N Reddi later confirmed to Deccan Herald that one pilot had died. Two others in the second flight survived the ejection with injuries.
The deceased pilot was identified as Wing Commander Sahil Gandhi, who flew as Surya Kiran 7. The injured pilots were Wg Cdr Vijay Shelke and Sqn Ldr Tejeshwar Singh.
"Today morning around 1150 hrs, two Hawk aircraft of Surya Kiran Aerobatic Team crashed close to Yelahanka Air Force base. These aircraft were carrying out practice for the forthcoming Aero India 2019 air show. Out of the three aircrew of the aircraft, Wg Cdr VT Shelke and Sqn Ldr TJ Singh ejected. However, Wg Cdr Sahil Gandhi sustained fatal injuries. The two aircrew have been airlifted to Air Force Command Hospital, Bengaluru. A Court of Inquiry has been ordered to investigate the accident," said the Defence PRO in a statement.
The injured pilots were flown to HAL Airport and shifted to the Air Command Hospital on Old Airport Road. Chaos reigned at the crash site in Nagenahalli near ISRO Layout off Doddaballapur Road, with the aircraft wings and other parts strewn all over the place.
An uninhabited house near the crash site caught fire as the debris came flying down. A civilian suffered minor injuries. Air Force security personnel and the local police rushed to the spot, although ambulances had a tough time reaching the place quickly.
Eye-witnesses and pilots at the Air Force Station said the collission occurred within 15 minutes of the aircraft taking off from the runway. It was around 11.50 am. Initially, onlookers recording the show with their mobile phones mistook the low-altitude flight to be part of the aerobatic displays.
Seconds before the mid-air collision, the two aircraft had launched an inverted aerial manouvre. The stunt was part of a series of aerobatic moves perfected over hundreds of sorties. But just after the collision, the aircraft went into a spin. The seriousness of the crash only dawned upon those gathered after the planes hit the ground, triggering a fire and massive, sky-high smoke.
A huge draw among airshow buffs, the Surya Kirans were lined up for aerobatic displays on all five days of Aero India 2019. The accident has raised a huge question mark on the conduct of the aerobatic shows, if not the airshow itself.
Besides the Surya Kirans, the Sarang helicopter aerobatic team and the Yakovlevs from the United Kingdom were lined up for aerial displays.
The accident comes close on the heels of the Mirage 2000 crash that killed two pilots on February 1. Tuesday's crash has sent shock waves among the pilots, aviation buffs heading to the five-day airshow and participating aerospace firms.
Formed in 1996, the Surya Kirans are part of the 52nd Squadron of the Indian Air Force (IAF). Taking a nine-aircraft formation, the team performed at all the earlier Aero India shows with the HJT-16 Kiran Mk.2 military trainer aircraft till 2011.
Once the Kiran trainers were taken off the Squadron, the team itself was suspended in February 2011. It was re-established only after the acquisition of the Advanced Jet Trainers (AJTs), Hawks from British Aerospace. Re-inducted in 2017 with the Hawk Mk-132 , the Surya Kirans are in based at the Bidar Air Force Station.