New Delhi: Despite the successful operation in Balakot, 2019 is already one of the bloodiest years of the Indian Air Force till now — with 22 personnel losing their life in as many as 10 crashes involving 11 aircraft.
The latest in the series was Indian’s frontline fighter aircraft Su-30 MKI, which crashed in paddy fields near Assam’s Tezpur, minutes after taking off Thursday night.
While both the pilots ejected and managed to escape, one of them has suffered serious injuries that will not allow him to fly again.
The year 2019 should have been a year full of glory for the IAF because it successfully carried out the Balakot airstrike in Pakistan — the first cross-LoC operations since the 1965 war — in the aftermath of the 14 February Pulwama terror attack that killed 40 CRPF personnel and escalated tensions between the two countries.
The aircraft crashes have dealt a severe blow to the IAF.
The list of crashes
The year started off with a Jaguar fighter aircraft crashing in Uttar Pradesh’s Kushinagar district on 28 January. The plane crashed minutes after taking off for a routine training mission from the Gorakhpur air force station. The pilot managed to eject safely.
Sources had then said that the pilot had sensed a mechanical failure and hence turned it away from the civilian population area before ejecting.
The next month – February – turned out to be a bitter month despite the Balakot airstrikes.
On 1 February, an upgraded Mirage 2000 aircraft crashed while undergoing a flight acceptance trial. The crash led to the death of both the pilots.
On 12 February, a MiG-27 aircraft crashed near Jaisalmer in Rajasthan. The pilot managed to eject safely.
This was followed by the 19 February crash of the two Hawk aircraft of IAF’s aerobatic team Surya Kiran near Yelahanka airbase in Bengaluru, a day before the opening of the Aero India show.
While two pilots managed to eject safely, one was killed.
On 26 February, the IAF successfully struck camps of the terror group Jaish-e-Mohammed in Balakot.
However, the next day, on 27 February, the IAF came under attack from the Pakistan Air Force (PAF). While the IAF shot down an F-16 of the Pakistan, a MiG-21 was also brought down by the PAF.
But the more tragic fact was that about 100-km away from the dogfight, an incoming Mi-17 V5 chopper of the IAF was shot down in friendly fire, killing six service personnel and one civilian on the ground.
The next month, in March, the IAF lost two aircraft. On 8 March, a MiG-21 crashed in Rajastha’s Bikaner district after a bird-hit. The pilot managed to eject safely.
On 31 March, another MiG-27 aircraft crashed near Jodhpur. The pilot managed to eject safely after he sensed glitches in the engine. The jet had taken off from Utarlai air force base and crashed in Sirohi district, around 120 km south of Jodhpur.
Three months later on 3 June, an AN-32 transport aircraft on way to Mechuka advanced landing ground near China border from Jorhat, Assam, crashed within 33 minutes of taking off.
Following the incident, the IAF had launched a massive search to trace the missing aircraft, but rescue operation was badly hit due to rough weather conditions.
After several days of search, the wreckage was finally spotted and all the 13 crew members were declared dead.