Mirage 2000 Crash in Bengaluru 1st Feb 2019 – Sad Loss of a National Resource

What We Know

An Indian Air Force (IAF) Mirage 2000 crashed during takeoff on 1st Feb 2019 at about 1030 AM IST. The aircraft was under acceptance test flight after an upgrade program. Sources indicate that state-run Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) was involved in deliverance of the upgrade. This was the second or third acceptance sortie.

Test pilots manning the ill-fated flight, Sqn Ldr Samir Abrol and Sqn Ldr Siddhartha Negi, both alumni of the 40th Flight Test Course (FTC) from Air Force Test Pilots School, Aircraft & Systems Testing Establishment (ASTE), IAF, Bengaluru perished in the crash. They leave behind families (and testers like me) who are still coming to terms with the terrible tragedy. The IAF and ASTE are doing their best to assist the bereaved while an investigation is underway.

What Sources Reveal

The aircraft was on a test flight in ‘heavy’ configuration with drop tanks. Soon after unstick (high speed, when the aircraft lifts off from the runway), there has been some event which forced the aircraft back onto the runway. There is no such thing as a safe ‘Reject Takeoff’ after unstick. So the TPs must have had to make split-second decisions – something crew of that Mirage were well trained to do. The main landing gear (MLG) reportedly collapsed on impact and the aircraft careened on the runway till it tore through the arrester barrier at other end of the runway.

As per reports, the aircraft skidded on its belly/drop-tanks, maintaining almost centreline alignment till barrier engagement at the opposite dumbell. This is not surprising. Test pilots don’t earn their graduation badges easy. They are top-of-the-game aviators. Samir and Siddharth were just seven months into their TP career. Freshly-minted but with more than adequate experience and apex skills that differentiate boys from men.

What Can be Inferred

News reports and official press releases indicate that both pilots ejected. They seem to have ejected after going through the arrester barrier. That’s a significant detail. Arrester barriers are terrible speed breakers; there for a reason.

At least one of them (Sqn Ldr Siddharth Negi, as per sources) landed on the flaming debris with his parachute. Sqn Ldr Samir Abrol also touched down within the explosion zone of the aircraft that went up in flames. This indicates ejection at slow speed, possibly after barrier engagement when momentum of the ill-fated aircraft was dissipated to a large extent. It is not clear whether any SGA (Soft Ground Arrester) or clearway helped break the aircraft momentum.

Any premature inferences pointing towards “pilots ejected but landed on the flaming debris and died” must be treated with circumspection. Pilots ejecting out of a Mirage 2000 careening at over 200 kmph with a ‘zero-zero’ ejection seat cannot accurately rendezvous the flaming debris unless certain conditions, not in their control, are met. This the Court of Inquiry already underway will hopefully unearth.

As per accepted protocol, any aircraft out of upgrade/modernisation has to be first test flown by OEM/HAL test pilots. Only after they are completely satisfied is the aircraft offered for ASTE acceptance. Standing watch between these processes are many watch dogs who must answer for the crash that claimed national resources (CRE/CRI/RCMA/CEMILAC). There is no room for complacency. Remember, there have been precedences (Saras, ”idly Avro’, IJT, etc.)

What Next

An investigation is underway. ASTE functions under protocols widely different from frontline squadrons. Flight testing is inherently risky, made no easier by agencies who have scant regard for safety and human lives. We must await the results turned out by the CoI.

Meanwhile, please do not get misled by tweets and trolls who try to exact mileage out of this unfortunate accident, replaying the Modi-RaGa-Rafale scam-mongering. That will be the biggest disservice to Samir and Siddharth – two young test pilots who laid down their lives struggling with legacy equipment, and a recalcitrant establishment who have their eyes on votes and tweets more than the real stuff that ails our armed forces today.

Test crew are a national resource. Don’t reduce them or the organizations they represent to the denomination of your petty political squabbles and Twitter wars. As a nation, we need to move on from scam-mongering to a more inspirational & scientifically-informed dialogue in aerospace.

We are just two weeks away from Aero India 2019. Walk the talk. Let science, analyses and thorough investigation prevail. That’s the best tribute you can pay these fallen air warriors.

Blue skies, Sam & Sid. We will never forget your sacrifice.

***************

© KP Sanjeev Kumar, 2019. All rights reserved. This article was republished with the author’s permission by Livefist Defence (read here), The Quint (read here), Scroll (read here) and The Print (read here).

Views expressed are personal and written with a view to introspect and encourage positive changes. Feel free to debate and contribute to the discourse. I can be reached at kipsake1@gmail.com.

kaypius

I am a full time aviator and part time writer. Between some real flights & some flights of fancy, this blog took birth. If you like it, great! If not, come back later and I may have something better for you! Happy reading!

11 thoughts on “Mirage 2000 Crash in Bengaluru 1st Feb 2019 – Sad Loss of a National Resource

  • February 2, 2019 at 05:03
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    How true KP…the world tendstto get carried away in finger pointing while forgetting the ‘people’ in the process or the need for causative analysis of an issue for accident prevention. Good thoughts and we’ll articulated….

    Reply
  • February 2, 2019 at 08:04
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    Our hearts go out to the families. There are professions that require you to consciously get in harm’s way. This is one of them. The best tribute would be learn from this tragedy and apply the lessons to make future flights safer.

    Reply
  • February 2, 2019 at 10:53
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    Loss of human resources is more damaging to the nation as trained personnel are prized resource. It is very sad we lost two great air men. May the Almighty give their families the strength to bear up the loss. Hopefully the court of enquiry will bring out some hitherto unknown or unnoticed technical pointer which can save precious lives and the assets

    Reply
  • February 2, 2019 at 12:00
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    A senior pilot, who has worked very closely with the HAL, once mentioned that the ACRONYM ‘HAL’ is, in reality, ‘HELL’
    One cannot bring back those who have, unfortunately, paid the ultimate price. However, I do hope this awakens the collective consciousness of the HAL.
    May the sacrifice by the young & budding pilots not go in vain…
    RIP my dear friends….

    Reply
  • February 2, 2019 at 16:36
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    My condolences to the families of Sqn Ldrs Negi and Abrol.

    A video of the accident exists and has been seen by several people. The aircraft has been reported as “pitched down soon after take off” and it obviously hit with sufficient downward velocity to break the landing gear.

    What is absurd is that HAL is going to do the enquiry. Witness, accused, judge and jury are all one ! Are we a banana republic ? Granted that IAF will have a member in the enquiry but he can, at best, write a note of dissent.

    An enquiry must not only be impartial, it must be seen as impartial. If IAF is considered an interested party, then let the enquiry be done by CEMILAC (Centre for Military Airworthiness) who are part of DRDO. As such, they are independent of both IAF and HAL.

    Reply
  • February 2, 2019 at 19:25
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    Sanju it is Gr8 loss to the nation.MRP. I have forwarded this to my service retired friends specially from IAF.

    Reply
  • February 2, 2019 at 20:27
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    HAL appears more like “Hell & Liability””…. Really sad …. Flying in inherently dangerous but flying a factory overhauled Aircraft in the Factory into a total loss accident killing Test Pilots is unpardonable derilection on the Part of HAL …. It needs to be closed down …they must build Cars … That all they can possible make with their inflated egos !!!

    Reply
  • February 5, 2019 at 10:39
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    RIP the brave friends. KPS hope the public at large holds their views till the inquiry establishes the cause. Taking political or other mileage out of such tragedies is real sad state of affairs and must be condemned.

    Reply
  • February 5, 2019 at 18:16
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    Blue Skies, Sam and Sid we will never forget your sacrifice. The line says it all. thank you for such an unbiased article

    Reply
  • February 9, 2019 at 22:22
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    Sad incident.
    Hope the truth comes out and a lesson is learnt by all.
    RIP Sid and Aby.

    -An elder brother, midnight friend and coursemate.

    Reply
  • Pingback:Pulwama & Beyond: Don’t Mix Blood & Votes – Kaypius

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