| George on his Sukhoi mission
Mumbai, July 25: Kavita and Anil Gadgil, who lost their 27-year-old son in a MiG crash two years ago, and other families wrecked by the “flying coffin” have asked George Fernandes not to turn their tragedy into a “joke”.
Having done the Siachen, the submarine and the Sukhoi, the defence minister announced in the Lok Sabha yesterday that he would take off in a MiG-21 to prove that the fighter jet, which has been crashing with chilling regularity, is safe.
But families that have lost a dear son, a brother, a husband or a father are furious and have asked the minister to instead phase out the killer aircraft, 30 of which have crashed in the past 35 months, killing 17 pilots and 19 civilians. One aircraft and two pilots are “missing in action”.
Members of the Abhijit Air Safety Foundation, formed three months after Flight Lieutenant Abhijit Gadgil died on September 17, 2001, asked the minister not to “parade his bravado in a stage-managed show”.
“If he really wants to fly in a MiG and allay the fears of pilots, he should go to an air force base, choose one of the MiGs at random and sit in the cockpit,” dared Kavita, Abhijit’s mother and founder of the Pune-based organisation.
The father of the latest MiG victim, Flight Lieutenant Deepankar Jamwal, killed in Barmer on June 4, echoed her. Fernandes should fly in one of those “defective MiGs”, he fumed.
The families have petitioned the President to “put an end to the circus”. Kavita today said she was forced to write to A.P.J. Abdul Kalam “seeking his direct intervention in stopping the air force’s plans of crashing MiGs to extinction, along with young pilots on board”.
The foundation has sought an appointment with the President on August 5, the day another pilot, Flight Lieutenant S.C. Shukla, died in a MiG-21 crash near Palam in 2000.
“We lost our 27-year-old son in an accident that was entirely the fault of his aircraft. We don’t want that to happen to other young officers anymore,” said Abhijit’s father Anil, who retired as wing commander. The foundation is demanding phase-out of the jets and immediate repairs till that happens.
Over phone from Jammu, Deepankar’s father exploded: “When a pilot dies in a MiG accident, the air force calls it human error. But when the pilot survives, it becomes a technical snag. For how long will the (air) force hide under such misleading statements'”
Members are trying to build public opinion through lectures and public meetings. “We refuse to sit quiet,’’ Kavita said, her voice choking. “They (the defence ministry) didn’t even give us a proper explanation when Abhijit died. They said he was weak in certain areas. But the fact was that he had 500 hours of flying experience and was put in charge of a formation during a dark moonless night. If he was weak, then why was he asked to fly'’’
Delinking their campaign from Fernandes’ announcement, Kavita, however, accused the defence minister of trying to distract people from the real issue.
In Delhi, Usha Dahiya, whose brother Flight Officer Deepak disappeared in Tezpur on April 20, 2000, along with Squadron Leader T.J.A. Khan, said the defence ministry has “no value for the life of its officers”. The President should intervene in “throwing away the MiGs” as “Farah, Sqn Ldr Khan’s wife, hasn’t stopped crying”.