Ahmedabad/New Delhi:Nine defence personnel, including five officers, were killed Thursday when two Indian Air Force (IAF) helicopters collided mid-air near Jamnagar in Gujarat, in one of the worst such accidents in recent years, an official said.
The collision at the Sarmat range near Jamnagar, about 275 km from Ahmedabad, took place at 12.05 p.m. while two Russian-origin Mi-17 cargo choppers of the air force were on a training mission.
All those killed belonged to the air force.
The crash occurred shortly after the helicopters took off from the Jamnagar airbase.
“Two Mi-17 IAF helicopters crashed near Sarmat range in Gujarat August 30 at about 12.05 p.m. The helicopters had taken off from Jamnagar airbase and were on a routine flying training mission. There were nine personnel on board and all succumbed to injuries,” IAF spokesperson Wing Commander Gerard Galway said in a statement in New Delhi.
“An inquiry has been ordered to investigate the cause of the accident,” he said.
On board the ill-fated choppers were five officers and four men of other ranks, defence sources said.
Among them were three wing commanders, a squadron leader, a flying officer, a junior commissioned officer and three sergeants.
However, names of the deceased are being withheld till the next of kin are informed.
In fact, the tragedy was compounded by the fact that three of the officers were among the best IAF chopper pilots, with nearly 15 years of flying experience each.
Also, they belonged to a key IAF formation called the Tactical and Air Combat Development Establishment (TACDE), an institution like the US Navy’s ‘Top Gun’ school.
TACDE develops the IAF’s combat flying and concepts and only the best of pilots with advanced flying skills are sent there for training.
The choppers, according to information reaching New Delhi, were flying close to each other when their rotor blades came in contact, causing the accident.
The two helicopters, sources said, were flying in a formation when the overhead rotor blades of one chopper hit the tail rotor blades of the other, which was flying ahead of it.
The rotors of the Mi-17IV choppers are usually about 22 metres in diameter and for that reason, two choppers flying in formation maintain a proximity of about 50 metres between them, IAF officers said.
The training mission involved flying at such proximity, they said.
“We cannot remember any such accident in recent years and the loss of nine personnel, that too some top notch pilots, in one go, is a big loss,” an officer added.
Defence Minister A.K. Antony expressed deep sorrow at the accident and in a statement conveyed condolences to the bereaved families.