Bengaluru: Three jets of the Indian Air Force (IAF) flew in a formation where the space for a fourth stood as a very evident, gaping void — the space meant to honour a colleague who was no longer with them.
The air display at Aero India, which began in Bengaluru Wednesday, kicked off with an aerial tribute to Wing Commander Sahil Gandhi, the 37-year-old father-of-one who died after a mid-air collision between two Hawk advanced jet trainers during rehearsals for the mega event in Bengaluru.
Of the three pilots involved, Gandhi was the only one who couldn’t eject. The others are recovering in hospital.
As Aero India began at the Yelahanka airbase in Bengaluru, a Jaguar, a Tejas and a Sukhoi Su-30 aircraft came together in the ‘missing-man’ formation to honour Gandhi.
Members of the Surya Kiran aerobatics team, to which Gandhi and the two other pilots belonged, did not participate in the air display, watching the flypast from a runway behind the inaugural site.
Describing the formation, an IAF officer drew an analogy with the human hand — if you stretch out the fingers, but keep one bent, that’s how the ‘Missing Man’ formation looks, he said.
The gap is for the person who should have been there, the officer added.
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Probe to be ordered into accident
The missing-man formation is an age-old tradition to remember fallen heroes that has also been performed at funerals of veterans. For example, at the funeral of Marshal of the Indian Air Force Arjan Singh in 2017, three Sukhoi Su-30MKIs conducted a flypast in the missing-man formation.
The first likeness of the formation reportedly dates back to 1931, in a report in the US paper Minnesota Pioneer about the funeral of Charles W. “Speed” Holman, an operations manager at Northwest Airways.
The crash involving Wing Commander Gandhi occurred near the Yelahanka airbase.
Air Marshal Rakesh Kumar Singh Bhadauria told reporters Tuesday that an investigation would be ordered into the incident involving the two Hawk advanced jet trainers. The accident is believed to be the first involving the Surya Kiran team since the induction of the Hawks.
Also read: What is a Hawk, the jet that crashed at Aero India rehearsal in Bengaluru