New Delhi, Dec. 26: A MiG-21 Bis aircraft of the Indian Air Force crashed near the Srinagar airport this afternoon.
At least one militant group has claimed responsibility for shooting down the plane. The IAF has, however, ruled out chances that the plane was brought down by firing.
One person was killed on the ground and his son injured. The pilot ejected and was said to be “safe”, apart from a broken hand.
A caller claiming to speak for the Jamiat-ul-Mujahideen, a pro-Pakistan militant outfit, telephoned journalists in Srinagar and said the plane was brought down by the organisation. The IAF spokesman in New Delhi, however, said there was no indication that the plane had been fired at.
It is another matter that IAF’s MiG-21s have been crashing without having to be shot down. Today’s is the 12th crash of a MiG-21 this year, the 18th of an IAF fighter.
The IAF spokesman, Squadron Leader R.K. Dhingra, said the plane was on its landing run, about 4 km from the runway, around 2.30 this afternoon when the pilot, Flying Officer B.K. Singh, detected trouble and ejected. The aircraft hit the top of a three-storey house.
The MiG-21 Bis that crashed today is not one of the several aircraft of its kind being upgraded. It was said to be returning from a training sortie and was on “low endurance”.
The general assumption is that the plane had been flying for about 25 minutes. A MiG-21 Bis usually has a flight endurance of 40 minutes. Operational sorties are frequently restricted to 30 minutes.
Dhingra said the crash could have been the result of “a bird-hit, human error or a technical defect”, running through a gamut of reasons. This is the third time this year that a MiG-21 has come crashing down on an inhabited area.
Chances of a bird-hit were said to be high because the plane was flying at a low altitude. Human error is not ruled out because the pilot — as his rank, Flying Officer, indicates — may not have crossed the “critical” experience threshold of 600 flying hours. Given the MiG-21s’ vintage and outdated technology, a technical defect is a common cause, too, for mishaps.
The IAF spokesman said half the fighter fleet was made up of MiG-21s and about 60 per cent of the operational sorties were done on the aircraft. This year, there were more operational sorties because of the 10-month-long mobilisation of the armed forces under Operation Parakram.
A parliamentary committee has recommended that the entire fleet of MiG 21s — about 20 squadrons — be scrapped. The defence establishment finds the suggestion impractical.
A rough estimate puts the cost of replacing one squadron of the MiG-21s — which are air defence fighters — at Rs 2,000 crore.