New Delhi: Squadron Leaders Siddharth Vashisht and Ninad Mandavgan, who were piloting the ill-fated Mi-17 V5 chopper when it was shot down in a case of friendly fire in Budgam on 27 February 2019 have been awarded the Vayu Sena Medal (gallantry) ahead of the Republic Day.
The four other IAF personnel who were on board the chopper — flight engineer Vishal Kumar Pandey, sergeant Vikrant Sehrawat, corporals Deepak Pandey and Pankaj Kumar — have been awarded ‘Mention-in-Despatches’ (MID) posthumously by the President.
An MID is an official report mentioning a soldier’s gallant action in an attack. It is written by a senior officer and sent to the Army high command.
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, a day after the Balakot strike, led to the death of all the six IAF personnel on board, besides a civilian.
The chopper was shot down by the IAF’s own Israeli-made Spyder air defence system following the failure of command and control.
All the six personnel were recommended for gallantry medals as they were flying to carry out an operational task assigned to them, IAF sources said.
However, they refused to divulge the exact details of the operation and the citations for their award will not be made public just like in the case of those awarded for their involvement in the Balakot operation.
What led to the shooting down of the chopper
ThePrint had reported the incident and also the findings of the IAF’s internal probe.
IAF chief Air Chief Marshal Rakesh Bhadauria admitted that it was a “big mistake” of friendly fire that led to the shooting down of the helicopter.
The chief operations officer and senior air traffic control officer, who were found guilty in the Court of Inquiry, will be facing court martial proceedings after due process.
IAF sources said the helicopter was mistaken as a possible Pakistani drone sent to attack the Srinagar airport.
It was 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.