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Collision carnage at celebration

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FREDERICK NORONHA AND SUJAN DUTTA   |   Published 02.10.02, 12:00 AM

Oct. 1: Two naval reconnaissance aircraft collided in mid-air during a flypast in Goa this morning, killing all 12 people on board and at least three on the ground as debris flew across a field to a house under construction.

The air show was part of the 25th anniversary celebrations of the naval Air Squadron 315, known as the “Winged Stallions” and considered the country’s largest naval air establishment.

The Russian-made Ilyushin (IL)-38 aircraft, with a crew of six each, crashed two miles east of the Dabolim airfield, 35 km from Panaji, when one of the planes bore down on the other around 9.55 am. The aircraft, based in the naval station at INS Hansa, Dabolim, were giving a demonstration of close-formation flying.

Air Traffic Control reported seeing one of the aircraft diving down with “wings level” even as the lead aircraft was banking left. It was not immediately clear why the IL-38 that was “diving” could not regain altitude. The navy has ordered an inquiry.

The IL-38 is a transport aircraft and going by the standards of military aircraft is a slow plane. It is normally not used for demonstration flying.

For the Air Squadron 315, the IL-38 has been fitted with radar and avionics for use in long-range maritime reconnaissance. It can also be used for anti-submarine and anti-ship warfare.

After colliding, the planes burst into flames and crashed on nearby residential areas, 2 km from the airbase. A half-finished house took a direct hit. Three labourers died and three were critically wounded. Around 20 labourers — mostly from Uttar Pradesh and Karnataka — were on the premises when the accident occurred.

People from Vasco, who rushed to the site of the accident, said human flesh lay scattered over a wide area but added that the tragedy could have taken a greater toll. The debris of one of the planes fell 400 metres from the Mormugao Education Society College at Zuarinagar.

Carpenter Prabhakar Acharya, who was working at the building site, said: “We were looking at them (the craft in the sky) and within two minutes, we realised that one of the planes was hurtling down at us.”

The other plane crashed into the power lifeline of Vasco-da-Gama, the port town named after the Portuguese explorer and now home to the naval base. “First I thought it was just a power line crashing down. Then I realised what was happening, and was shocked,” said Srinivas Deshpande, a 16-year-old. He said he was about to rush his paralysed grandmother to a neighbour’s home. “The gate and garden were on fire.”

Among the aircraft crew were Lt Commanders S.K. Yadav, K.S. Rathore, S.K. Dutta, R. Saini, A.C. Karadi, N.V. Nirmal and J.D. Dutta; corporals Vijay Kumar, J.P. Singh and Inder Prakash and George Macai and Anil Singh from other ranks.

A navy spokesman said the squadron was the premier maritime force of the Indian Navy and, before this crash, had logged nearly 30,000 hours of accident-free flying in 25 years.

The naval station was moved to Goa from Tamil Nadu in the mid-sixties. Vasco, then a sleepy town, is now one of the most populous urban centres of Goa.

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