New Delhi: The Indian Air Force (IAF) is minutely scrutinising footage of the recent Mirage 2000 crash, obtained from the Air Traffic Control, and suspects that a possible mechanical issue and failure of the arrester barrier at the end of the runway may have contributed to the accident.
The crash, at the Hindustan Aeronautical Limited (HAL) airport in Bengaluru, killed both IAF test pilots — Squadron Leader Samir Abrol and Squadron Leader Siddhartha Negi.
Sources said the footage shows that the pilots tried to touchdown a second after takeoff, indicating a possible mechanical fault. They added that the entire sequence of the crash has been caught in the video, which is key to unravelling the cause of the accident along with the jet’s black box, which has been sent to France for analysis.
HAL had carried out six test flights on the aircraft and it was on its second test by the IAF when it crashed.
According to top defence sources, the video shows that the aircraft had released its brakes and accelerated. They said that at about 13 seconds from the wheel roll, the nose wheel had lifted off the ground and seven seconds later, the entire aircraft was off the ground.
“When the aircraft is about five metres from the ground, its nose pitches sharply down and it hit the runway on its main wheels and tail,” a source said. The source added that the impact damaged the runway and an “orange flame” is seen on impact.
Sources said that as a result of the impact, the main undercarriage collapsed and sheared off due to the force of the crash-landing.
By then, the braking tail-chute, located on the underside of the tail, is also damaged but the aircraft continues to move forward on its two-wing drop tank and nose wheel.
Sources said that at this point, the pilots would have hoped that the arrester barrier would have stopped the aircraft as there was no breaking device other than the friction of the drop tank scraping the ground.
The barrier that failed
Sources said the video shows that the arrester barrier appears to have failed as it was unable to stop the aircraft. The arrester barrier is a net with two hydraulic jacks that is at the end of the runway to ensure that an aircraft does not overshoot it.
“The video indicates the barrier had failed and the aircraft appears to have lifted off the ground and cleared the 10-ft high boundary wall neatly before hitting the ground and finally exploding into flames,” a source said.
Just as the aircraft hit the ground, two seats are seen to eject in sequence but it was too late by then.
Sources said the video clearly shows that something has happened in the aircraft after lift-off to cause the pilots to try to touchdown immediately. “The black-box holds the key to a lot of questions,” sources said.
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