Smoke billows from the valley into which the Jaguar crashed near North Sikkim's Mangan on Friday. Telegraph picture
New Delhi, Nov. 30: A Jaguar fighter aircraft of the Indian Air Force crashed today in North Sikkim during a practice sortie in a mystery drill. Its young pilot ejected but was reported to be injured.
The Jaguar — technically categorised as a deep penetration strike or ground-attack aircraft — was originally based in Bhuj in Gujarat but was operating out of Hashimara in north Bengal’s Jalpaiguri district from where it had taken off at 12.48 this afternoon.
The practice drill required the cross-country movement of the aircraft from the western border to the northeast of the country, air force sources said.
IAF sources said the fighter-bomber piloted by Flight Lieutenant Yogesh Yadav was practising a “valley flight” — navigating at low altitude by observing landmarks — when it lost radio contact.
The debris of the aircraft was found in a forest at Upper Dzongu, around 45km from Mangan, the headquarters of North Sikkim district.
A PTI report said Colonel Gurung of the army’s 27 Mountain Division stationed in North Sikkim told journalists that the fighter jet crashed at 1.15pm. Soldiers in a camp reported to the air force that they had seen the parachutist. A search and rescue helicopter was flown to bring the pilot.
P.W. Lepcha, the subdivisional magistrate of Mangan, said pilot Yadav was rescued by residents who had seen him bail out. “I talked to the villagers and learnt that the pilot has probably suffered a fracture on his hand. The crash spot is inaccessible by road. We had to walk for about an hour,” said Lepcha, who reached the area along with some others this evening.
According to the officer, although the villagers recalled having witnessed the pilot parachuting, nobody could say how exactly he suffered the injuries. “A court of inquiry has been ordered,” an IAF source said.
All of Sikkim is strategically important because of the Chinese frontier to the north and the east of the state. A high-speed striker-bomber aircraft like the Jaguar would be flown by the IAF so close to disputed boundaries only with extreme caution.
A Jaguar usually operates along with other fighter (air-defence or interceptor) aircraft that escort it on missions. But the IAF is constricted for airspace for practice drills because of heavy civilian traffic over north Bengal that is the corridor between the northeastern states and the rest of the country.
One officer said that because of the restricted airspace, fighter aircraft from bases in north Bengal go on training sorties over Sikkim. The fighter pilots are also put through different types of exercises and “valley-flying” was one of them.