Less than a week after president Pratibha Patil took to the skies in one of them, a Sukhoi-30 MKI, India’s most advanced fighter aircraft, crashed near Pokhran on Monday evening. Both pilots, however, ejected safely.
The aircraft reportedly developed a technical snag while on a routine sortie and crashed in an open field near Kallaron Ki Dhani, about 5 km from the army’s Chandan firing range in Jaisalmer district.
“The plane crashed in an open field, but no one was hurt. An Indian Air Force (IAF) team is examining the crash site,” Jaisalmer superintendent of police Vishnukant said.
“One SU-30 MKI aircraft of the IAF crashed south-west of Pokhran” at around 5.30 pm, the air force said in a statement. “The aircraft had taken off from the Jodhpur air base on a routine training sortie [around 4.55 pm]. The pilot and the navigator ejected safely,” it said.
The air force said there was “no reported damage to civil life or property”. It has ordered a court of inquiry.
This is the second time that the advanced multi-role fighter, which was inducted into the air force in 2002, has crashed. The first crash at Rajmathai village, around 170 km from Jaisalmer, in April was because of the position of the various critical switches of the aircraft. The switches were behind the pilots and they would have to turn them on and off without looking back.
At one point, a wrong switch was turned on, leading to the crash on April 30. Wing Commander PS Nara was killed in the mishap, while Wing Commander SV Munje was injured. After investigators identified the problem, they sealed off a couple of difficult switches.
It is not clear what caused Monday’s accident, but the crash raises serious questions about the safety of India’s most advanced and powerful fighters.
At least 10 aircraft, including three MiG 27s, three MiG 21s, an HPT 32 trainer, an AN-32 trainer plane and two helicopters, from the air force fleet have crashed this year.