I often see my brother Siddharth in my dreams. We grew up together. Since we were of the same age, I often used to wear his clothes when we were kids. Ever since we have lost him, we do not talk about the incident at home any more. It only upsets us more.Meenakshi Vashisht, Squadron Leader Siddharth Vashisht’s sister
Said Meenakshi Vashisht in a choked voice over a telephonic interview with The Quint. She is a cousin sister of Squadron Leader Siddharth Vashisht, who was one of the pilots of the ill-fated Mi-17 V-5 helicopter that crashed at Budgam in Kashmir on 27 February 2019 – when Indian and Pakistani aircraft were engaged in a dogfight, a day after the Indian Air Force’s air strike on a Jaish-e-Mohammed terrorist training camp in Balakot in Pakistan.
In October 2019, the Indian Air Force (IAF) Chief Rakesh Kumar Singh Bhadauria accepted before media that the shooting down of the helicopter was a ‘big mistake’. He said that an eight month long Court of Inquiry (COI) had concluded that the Mi-17 was hit by the IAF’s own air defence missile. It also established lapses and mistakes by officials and administrative action and disciplinary action had been initiated.
When The Quint contacted IAF officials seeking more information about the officers against whom action was taken, they refused to share any information. They called it a sensitive matter about which information could not be divulged in the public domain.
Six air force personnel were killed in the crash along with a civilian.
Two year later, The Quint spoke to the family members of Indian Air Force’s Squadron Leader Siddharth Vashisht and Flight Engineer Vishal Kumar Pandey who were killed in the crash.
The IAF was aware from the beginning about the big mistake of hitting its own chopper. But they never admitted it initially.Meenakshi Vashisht, Squadron Leader Siddharth Vashisht’s sister
“Siddharth’s family avoid any kind of conversation related to the incident as his parents are still struggling to come to terms with the death of their only son”, said his cousin Meenakshi.
I was in my office, when my mother called to inform me about Siddharth. His nick name was Bunny. My mother just said “Mini…Bunny” and paused. I told her not say anything further. I understood that my colleagues were talking about chopper crash. (Crying) I just didn’t want to hear any further. I was completely shattered. I had lost my favourite person.Meenakshi Vashisht, Squadron Leader Siddharth Vashisht’s sister
Siddharth hailed from Hamidpur village in Ambala district in Haryana. Meenakshi remembers the big promises made by Haryana government officials who came to attend his prayer meeting in his village. But those promises were never fulfilled.
‘Haryana Government Made Many Promises But Never Fulfilled’
The Haryana government officials promised before my family and villagers that a statue, a gym and a gate at village’s entrance will be made in my brother’s name in my village Hamidpur. But till date nothing has happened.Meenakshi Vashisht, Squadron Leader Siddharth Vashisht’s sister
Meenakshi also added that the family had to run from pillar to post for over a year to get a letter from the Haryana government declaring Siddharth a State martyr.
A martyr letter issued by a State, is a certificate showing that my brother was a martyr of Haryana State which is an honour for the family.Meenakshi Vashisht, Squadron Leader Siddharth Vashisht’s sister
Siddharth’s wife, Aarti Singh, is also a Squadron Leader in Indian Air Force. 31-year-old Siddharth was a fourth generation member from his family in the armed forces. He joined the IAF in 2010.
‘Govt Should think about Martyr's Parents’
34-year-old Flight Engineer Vishal Kumar Pandey hailed from Varanasi in Uttar Pradesh (UP). After the tragic incident, the UP government gave his wife Maadhvi Pandey a job at the Sainik Kalyan Board in Lucknow.
I received help from all quarters. The UP government helped me in getting school admission for free. Because of this job, I am an independent woman. I am thankful to the government for helping us.Maadhvi Pandey, Vishal Pandey’s wife
The UP government also gave compensation of Rs 20 lakh to his wife and Rs 5 lakh to his parents.
Through a newspaper report we got to know that five IAF personnel were held responsible for the incident. We contacted IAF officials multiple times for more, but the IAF never shared any information.Vijay Shankar Pandey, Vishal’s father
Due to an estranged relationship with Vishal's parents, Maadhvi now lives separately in Lucknow with their two children.
I wanted my daughter (Vishal’s sister) to become a pilot but we do not have enough money to pay fees. So we decided to send her for PGDM (Post-Graduate Diploma Management) studies with the help of the Rs 5 lakh that we got as a compensation amount.Vijay Shankar Pandey, Vishal’s father
Vishal’s father worked as a manager at a cinema hall in Varanasi. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, he lost his job in 2020. Since there was no earning member left in the family, Vishal’s father said he was forced to write letters to the Prime Minister, the President of India and the UP CM demanding financial help for the family.
After UP government’s intervention in the matter, Vishal’s wife Maadhvi is paying us Rs 10,000 every month, which is still not enough for our family. Our request is that the government and security forces should think about parents too and not only about the wife of the martyr.Vijay Shankar Pandey, Vishal’s father
The other four IAF officials who got killed in the crash were Squardron Leader Ninad Mandvgane, Sergeant Vikrant Sehrwat, Corporals Deepak Pandey and Pankaj Kumar.