New Delhi: The crash of a Mi-17 V5 helicopter in Budgam on 27 February, which killed seven people, including six uniformed personnel, was caused by friendly fire, a probe conducted by the Indian Air Force has ruled, according to highly-placed sources.
“The Court of Inquiry has found that the crash was a result of system failure. Two officers, the chief operations officer (COO) and the senior air traffic control officer (SATCO), have been found to blame,” a source told ThePrint.
The probe into the incident, which took place while the Indian and Pakistani air forces were engaged in a dogfight in the Nowshera sector around 100 km from Budgam, has also established that the helicopter was indeed shot down by the IAF’s own Israeli-made Spyder air defence system following the failure of command and control.
ThePrint had reported on 31 March that the chopper crash could have been caused by friendly fire.
The report, which was submitted after nearly six months of detailed investigations, was submitted to the Air Headquarters earlier this month. Air Chief Marshal B.S. Dhanoa will now take a call on quantum of punishment that will be handed out. The officers could face court martial proceedings.
“Rest assured that the punishment will be very severe,” another source said.
Sources had told ThePrint on 21 June that the two officers could face court martial and another two could face limited action.
‘Lack of coordination’
Sources said at the time the chopper was hit by a missile 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. There was complete lack of coordination,” a source said.
It is learnt that the IAF’s Barnala-based Integrated Air Command & Control System, 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’ system — a transponder-based identification system — was switched off. Sources said despite directions from the Air Headquarters to have the transponder on all the time, the practice at the Srinagar Air Base was to switch it off because it interferes with civilian aircraft transmissions, and also because the aircraft could be identified by the enemy during battle.
“It was indeed a system failure that led to the crash. Proper protocols were not adhered to. The COO was the person in charge of the operations at the time,” a source said.
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