New Delhi: A senior Indian Air Force (IAF) officer and three other personnel of the Srinagar Air Base could be booked for “culpable homicide not amounting to murder” in the 27 February crash of a Mi-17 helicopter that killed six IAF personnel and a civilian, highly-placed sources told ThePrint.
The crash, which took place while the Indian defence forces were on hair-trigger alert in light of an incursion by Pakistan Air Force planes, has almost been confirmed as a result of friendly fire, the sources added.
The report about possible action against IAF personnel comes even as the Court of Inquiry (CoI) into the incident is still underway. The inquiry will shortly move to the next step, ‘summary of evidence’, which is akin to a chargesheet.
The inquiry is said to be looking into the role of the Terminal Weapons Director (TWD) of the airbase, who cleared the launch of the missile. The sources said the Chief Operations Officer (COO) was in charge at that point of time.
The probe seeks to find out whether the order was issued by the officer concerned on phone or if he was present in the control room.
“The IAF is very clear that whoever is guilty will face the music,” a senior officer told ThePrint. “They could be charged with culpable homicide not amounting to murder but this has not been established yet,” the officer said.
Meanwhile, according to the sources, the Air Officer Commanding (AOC) of the Srinagar Air Base, the most senior officer of the base, has been moved out as part of the probe into the crash.
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The AOC, the sources added, was moved out immediately after the incident to ensure an impartial probe.
‘Lack of coordination’
Sources told ThePrint that at the time the chopper was hit by a missile fired by the Israeli-made Spyder air defence system, it had been in contact with air traffic control (ATC) as it was approaching the air base.
“The ATC was in touch with the helicopter and knew it was coming back. However, the weapon operators fired because they felt it was an unmanned aircraft coming their way,” one of the sources told ThePrint. “There was lack of coordination. These are some of the issues that the CoI is looking into.”
It has been learnt that the IAF’s Barnala-based Integrated Air Command & Control System (IACCS), which is tasked with monitoring incoming aircraft from Pakistan, had not designated the helicopter a ‘Red’, the classification for enemy aircraft.
The helicopter’s Identification of Friend or Foe (IFF) — a transponder-based identification system — was switched off. However, sources said the system was switched off because it interferes with civilian aircraft transmissions, and because the aircraft could be identified by the enemy during battle.
A number of interviews with service personnel and video recordings are being used to identify the cause and lapses that led to the incident.
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