Saturday, October 24, 2009

MiG down in flames, two boys injured

photo-The site of the crash near Mujnai Tea Estate.

Dhumchipara, Oct. 23: A MiG-27 that had taken off from an Indian Air Force base at Hasimara crashed into a stream here this afternoon, injuring two boys with burning fuel and killing four cows close to a tea garden. The pilot bailed out safely.

This is the ninth crash of an IAF plane this year, the second of a MiG27. The MiG 27s — there are more than 100 of the Russian-origin aircraft in the IAF's fighter fleet — were modernised recently.

Flight Lieutenant Gautam Cholaill had taken off on a routine sortie at 12.30pm and had contacted the Hasimara flight control at 1.10pm to report that his aircraft was on fire and he was bailing out, IAF sources said.

The pilot parachuted down into a bamboo grove at Uttar Rangalibazna, about 2km from the spot where the plane, a blazing fireball, crashed just beside the Mujnai Tea Estate, 65km from Alipurduar town. IAF sources said the pilot suffered minor injuries and was completely safe.

Eight-year-old Amit Tirkey and his brother Sanjit, 6, who had gone to the stream, locally called Ratna Jhora, to take a bath had spotted the plane coming down in flames. Both they were too scared to run even as the MiG crashed close to them making a deep crater on impact. Amit suffered burns on his back while Sanjit’s right hand and hip got scalded. They were standing 20 metres from the point of impact.

Both were taken to the Madarihat health centre. While Sanjit was released after treatment, his brother was referred to the State General Hospital in Birpara. The boys had difficulty in hearing, being temporarily deafened by the huge explosion, doctors at Madarihat said. “We were so scared that we could not move. We had returned from school and were taking a bath when we saw a ball of fire rushing down from the sky. We heard a loud crash and then we could not see anything. There was pain and the next thing we knew we were carried to the hospital,” Amit managed to say. The boys’ parents are garden workers.

A fire tender from Hasimara arrived at the spot in 30 minutes and controlled the flames. The pilot was taken back to base by a helicopter.

The black box has been recovered from the debris that lay scattered over an area of about 400 metres. The area has been cordoned off and IAF officers will remain there overnight.

Wing Commander V. Roy, the safety officer from Hasimara, said an inquiry had begun to ascertain the cause of the crash. “Our pilot is safe and we have recovered the black box,” he said.

The block development officer of the Madarihat-Birpara block, Naved Akhtar, said a report was being sent to the IAF base. “Four heads of cattle have perished and we have been told by the IAF officers that they will provide compensation,” the BDO said.

Wing Commander R. Sahoo, the public relations officer of the Eastern Air Command, told The Telegraph over the phone from Shillong: “Some technical snag seems to have led to the incident for which the air force has ordered a court of inquiry.”

Later a press release issued by the ministry of defence in Delhi said: “There is no reported damage to any civil property or life. A Court of Inquiry has been ordered to investigate the cause of the accident.”

Since its upgrade, the MiG 27 is expected to function better than it was despite its Soviet vintage. The modernisation meant that it had improved avionics, a more pilot friendly cockpit and navigation technology. Some of the computerised gadgetry installed in the avionics system of the MiG 27 are also used in the Jaguar and the Sukhoi 30 Mki aircraft of the IAF.

With inputs from New Delhi bureau

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