Shooting down Mi-17 on Feb 27 'big mistake': IAF chief

Indian Air Force (IAF) Chief Rakesh Kumar Singh Bhadauria. (PTI photo)

Seven months after the unfortunate incident, Indian Air Force (IAF) on Friday admitted that its air defence missile shot down IAF's own Mi-17 V5 helicopter near Srinagar on February 27, killing six IAF personnel on-board and a civilian.

“The court of Inquiry was completed last week. It was our fault as our own missile hit the helicopter,” Chief of the Air Staff Air Chief Marshal R K S Bhadauria said here in a press conference ahead of the Air Force Day (October 8).

This is the first official admission of the “friendly fire” incident from the IAF in which the force fired its Spyder air defence missile to bring down the helicopter, mistaking it as an enemy aircraft approaching the Srinagar base.

“It was a big mistake. Steps are being taken to ensure such things don't recur in future. Administrative action has already been taken. Two officers face disciplinary actions, which will be initiated soon,” said Bhadauria, who took over as the IAF chief four days ago.

As IAF and Pakistani Air Force were engaged in a dogfight in Jammu and Kashmir on February 27, several officials cited “fog of the war” as the reason for the tragedy.

The CoI report, however, pointed out several procedural lapses on the part of the Srinagar base commander and other officials who they decided to fire the missile thinking the IAF helicopter as an enemy platform. For some reason, the chopper's “identify-friend-or-foe” sensors were not operational.

It was the same day when a battery of Pakistan fighter jet including F-16, JF-17 and Mirage-III/IV raided the northern skies looking for opportunities to avenge the IAF strike on Balakot terror camp a day before.

Four PAF aircraft crossed the border and targeted Indian military establishments but their attack was repulsed by the IAF's Su-30MKI, Mirage-2000 and MiG-21 Bisons. In the dogfight, Wg Cdr Abhinandan Varthaman shot down a Pak F-16 combat jet, but in turn received a hit leading to the crash of his MiG-21 inside Paksitan territory.

Wg Cdr Varthaman was captured by the Pakistani forces but released after 60 hours following huge diplomatic pressure from all over the world.

Before the admission by the Chief of the Air Staff, the only official acknowledgment of the “friendly fire” incident was a short press statement from the IAF released on the same day but eight hours after the tragedy.

“One Mi-17 V5 helicopter of the IAF got airborne from Srinagar airfield at 1000 hours for a routine mission. The helicopter crashed around 1010 hrs near Budgam. All six air warriors on board the helicopter, suffered fatal injuries. A court of inquiry has been ordered to investigate the accident,” stated the IAF statement issued on February 27.

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