It has been several hours after an Indian Army ALH Dhruv helicopter crash landed somewhere in the Poonch sector today Oct 24th, 2019.
If photographs and early reports are to be believed, all occupants of the helicopter had a miraculous escape from what looks like an unsurvivable crash. As per official sources, there are only ‘minor injuries’ to those onboard. Army Commander of Indian Army’s Northern Command, Lt Gen Ranbir Singh, reportedly on board, is believed to be safe, along with other occupants (2 crew +7 pax?) of the ill-fated Dhruv.
It is not the first time an ALH crash landed with senior officials onboard. Here’s a sample news report.
Please note that it is not normal to laud the crashworthiness of an aircraft while glossing over root causes that enforce a force-landing. In the absence of reasons for the latter in public domain, we celebrate the former. This does not bode well for a nation aiming to scale the high water mark of indigenisation in aerospace.
But then, this is India and it’s a helicopter in question. In our dwindling attention span, how much will this crash count?
Looking at pictures of the Oct 24, 2019 crash freely available on social media, I find it miraculous that the occupants escaped with ‘minor injuries’. In India, we count spinal compression / fractures or cracked vertebrae as ‘minor injuries’ even as we face a disastrous shortage of able aircrew, both in military and civil aviation.
Let this matter rest for now till verified information is released by official sources. Diwali comes as an unexpected bounty for those looking to bury real issues.
Photographs of the wreckage with accompanying ‘theories’ landed on my phone before ANY official account of the event appeared anywhere on official accounts of those concerned, viz. Indian Army, Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL), Defence Ministry, etc. By the time I returned from my evening run, my phone was flooded with photos & queries. People – ordinary citizens shocked at the pictures freely shared on social media – expected me to weigh-in on the issue even before a single official word on the accident was spoken or tweeted. I find this ‘par for course’, though not beneficial or constructive in the least.
Not wanting to play spoilsport, I let out an impromptu series of tweets to douse the initial barrage of questions. You can read that thread here:
Ah! The eternal quest for truth begins yet again!
I stood up as ‘expert witness’ for a HAL-manufactured Chetak that went out of control while on final approach to INS Hansa few years ago. That helicopter’s short ‘elephant dance’ lasted about 10 seconds. There were no survivors & there was NIL outcome from the accident investigation that followed. Today 24th Oct 2019, we had an Army Commander onboard. Maybe he will count for some real investigation.
Today’s crash landing did not result in any post-crash fire. Regardless of what caused the accident, it highlights some strengths & weaknesses of the system we have curated. Crashworthiness of the ALH & crew proficiency in recovering a failed situation is definitely a ‘strength’. What about the rest? Let’s run down that list, even as an investigation gets underway.
Firstly, what regulations – if any – are in force for controlling release of such photographs of a military accident (navy, army or airforce)? How come such photos reach us in India 2019 from sensitive border outposts through mainstream media & social media channels while official sources remain tight-lipped? How come when it comes to good news, official channels are the first to tom-tom mundane snippets like it is ‘breaking news’?
Nothing wrong with either; I am just questioning which channel should the aam aadmi believe?
Secondly, how come even after 9 hrs, official spokespersons are still either ziplipped (HAL Twitter handle is SILENT on the event as I write at 2140 hrs on Oct 24th, 2019) or, worse still, playing it down? Is it the Diwali weekend effect? Is it just plain ineptitude when it comes to media and public relations? Or is it that unless some lives are lost, we are not aroused enough to speak up for safety?
Thirdly, what is this new-age nonsense about making social-media splashes out of spectacular accidents? Are we becoming another propaganda machine like our western neighbour who misses no opportunity to claim false successes, bury their dead incognito & sip propaganda like lives don’t matter?
When engine-room fire onboard an aircraft carrier claimed the life of a young Indian Navy officer, official handles tweeted out homilies to the fallen officer while glossing over deploying a major fire-fighting system with people inside the doomed compartment. I understand information warfare (IW) and all that. But are we to believe: ‘be prompt in celebrating unverified heroism, while brushing shiploads of damning evidence under the rug’?
Why not raise the bar for scientific investigation and stay tight-lipped till thorough investigations are completed? I reject our present approach. It reeks of nonchalance & a ‘chalta hai‘ attitude. To compare ourselves to Pakistan and come out smelling of ‘attar‘ is double disaster in my view.
Fourthly, what have we done to bring more public accountability to military accidents that keep claiming lives of our soldiers? Don’t give me that ‘cannon-fodder’, ‘occupational hazard’ or ‘they signed up for this & that’ theory. It doesn’t cut any ice with serious observers; neither does it improve matters in the long run. We want a symbiotic relationship with industry, not an incestuous one like some of our neighbours.
Fifthly, Indian armed forces would do well to overhaul their public information & public-relations systems. Let not Pakistan with it’s ham-handed, ISI-controlled media be the benchmark. We must aim much higher and choose our models more sagaciously. For all the nonsense coming out of US President Donald Trump’s personal Twitter account (& even White House official channels), one thing you cannot fault them for is their speed & alacrity of response. We stick out like a rag-tag old file-tag in our speed in dishing out both information and counter-information. Perhaps we can change that.
While we await official accounts of the ALH Dhruv crash landing of Oct 24th, 2019, how about an impartial audit into ‘how’ accident investigation is undertaken in the military parlance in India? Accident investigation cannot be a godawful secondary duty any longer. The machines are getting complicated even as we stretch ourselves thin. In this evolution of man-versus-machine (not wild), big fish escape each & every time while soldiers on ground continue to face rough end of the stick.
Don’t let IW replace IQ.
Wishing today’s Dhruv crash survivors a speedy recovery to good health & the reality of flying. May wisdom prevail over propaganda and conjecture. Let no crash investigation finding be ‘undetermined’. We owe it to an Indian Army ALH Dhruv crew who spiralled out of the sky while on a ferry flight in an unalerted state. Nobody survived there. Do you know what happened then?
Well, if you don’t care — let me tell you – you MUST. Please keep quiet & wait for the investigation. The quest for truth must continue.
©KP Sanjeev Kumar, 2019. All rights reserved. I can be reached at email@example.com or on my Twitter handle @realkaypius. Views are personal.