The incomplete diamond formation of Surya Kirans seen at Aero India | Snehesh Alex Philip/ThePrint
The incomplete diamond formation of Surya Kirans seen at Aero India | Snehesh Alex Philip/ThePrint
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New Delhi: A human error may have caused the mid-air collision of two planes rehearsing for an aerobatic show near Bengaluru’s Yelahanka Air Force Base in February, according to two Indian Air Force (IAF) officials familiar with an ongoing investigation into the crash.

One pilot was killed while the two others were injured in the crash of two Hawk advanced jet trainers of the Surya Kiran Aerobatic Display Team.

The British-origin jets were rehearsing complex aerobatic manoeuvres to be performed during the five-day airshow, Aero India-2019. It was the second crash involving IAF aircraft in February since a Mirage 2000 trainer crashed in Bengaluru on February 1. Two pilots were killed in that crash.

One of the officials cited above, who requested anonymity, said the initial investigation points to a pilot error as the jets were flying in an “incorrect formation” while performing the mirror manoeuvre.

In a mirror manoeuvre, it appears to spectators on the ground that one jet in the formation is flying inverted exactly above the other. But the planes in reality have to maintain minimum lateral separation to eliminate chances of a collision.

“It is a very tight formation. But the pilots have to maintain a minimum lateral separation. It appears the jets did not maintain that separation that day. The Hawk flying below the inverted plane should not have been exactly under it,” the second official said, also on condition of anonymity.

Also read: What is a Hawk, the jet that crashed at Aero India rehearsal in Bengaluru

The jet flying below had two pilots in it. A single pilot flew the inverted one above. Footage of the collision showed that the aircraft on top descended rapidly with its nose crashing into the tail of the jet below before snapping off into pieces.

Wing Commander Sahil Gandhi, who was flying the inverted jet, was killed in the crash. The two injured pilots in the other plane ejected and parachuted to the ground.

An IAF spokesperson refused to comment saying the probe into the crash was still on. “However, the next course of action will be determined by the findings of the IAF probe. If found culpable, it could have serious implications for the erring pilot,” an IAF official said.

The Surya Kiran Aerobatic Team consists of India’s finest fighter pilots trained to perform death-defying stunts. It is equipped with Hawk Mk 132 trainers and carries out dazzling displays with its trademark nine-aircraft formation.

Also read: Surya Kirans back in skies at Aero India, pay tribute to commander killed in crash

The IAF inducted its first batch of Hawks in February 2008 to simplify the training of rookie fighter pilots from subsonic trainers to supersonic fighters.

India ordered 123 Hawks, manufactured by defence and aerospace giant BAE Systems, of which 24 were delivered in flyaway condition while the remaining were license-produced at Bengaluru’s Hindustan Aeronautics Limited. The Navy operates 17 Hawks while the remaining belong to the IAF.

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