Surya Kirans take to skies for Wg Cdr Gandhi

Surya Kirans take to skies for Wg Cdr Gandhi

Five days after the fatal Surya Kiran crash that killed a pilot, the hugely popular aerobatic team was back to pay a touching aerial homage to the departed on Saturday. Cheering the team, thousands stood and watched in awe at the ongoing Aero India 2019 airshow here.

Flying in a ‘Missing Man’ formation in honour of the deceased Wing Commander Sahil Gandhi, seven out of the nine Surya Kirans struck an instant emotional connect with the crowd. After the fatal crash, the Surya Kirans had decided to give this airshow a miss. But they eventually chose not to, in honour of their colleague.

Wg Cdr Gandhi could not eject out to safety. His two pilot colleagues, Wing Commander Vijay Shelke and Squadron Leader Tejeshwar Singh, however, ejected but were injured in the February 19 crash in Harohalli on the outskirts of the Yelahanka Air Force Station.

Just as the Advanced Jet Trainers (Hawks) attached to the Surya Kirans took flight one after another at about 10.30 am on Saturday, an announcement was made that the Saturday flight would be a tribute to Wg Cdr Gandhi.

Everyone listened in rapt attention as the announcer said: “He (Wg Cdr Gandhi) was a member of the resurrected Surya Kiran team. As a founding member, he will always be our wingman and he will be remembered eternally.”

Every formation during the brief, 10-minute display, was greeted by big cheers from the crowds. Most were surprised that the team could regain their spirits and return for the airshow. The reduced public turnout on the penultimate day of the show was attributed to the declared absence of the Surya Kirans.

Before Saturday’s aerial tribute, a Jaguar, a Tejas and a Sukhoi Mki aircraft had combined for a ‘Missing Man’ formation flight at the Aero India 2019 inauguration. The three fighter jets had flown with a space left vacant, as a symbolic gesture showing the absence of a colleague.

For the Surya Kirans, Tuesday’s crash was the third in their aerobatic history. During a practice flight, the team had its first crash in March, 2006 at the Bidar Air Base. Two pilots were killed in that accident. A second pilot died in January 2009, when one of the aircraft crash shortly after taking off.

However, the Bengaluru accident was the first on the Hawk platform.

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