1 Pilot Dead As 2 Jets from Surya Kiran Team Collide at Aero India

1 Pilot Dead As 2 Jets from Surya Kiran Team Collide at Aero India

India

One pilot died after two IAF jets from the Surya Kiran team collided mid-air on Tuesday, 19 February, near the Yelahanka airbase in Bengaluru while rehearsing for Aero India 2019.

"There were three pilots, one has died, two are safe with injuries," DGP Fire Services MN Reddi who rushed to the spot told PTI.

The Bengaluru police said that one civilian has also been hurt in the crash.

The deceased pilot has been identified as Wing Commander Sahil Gandhi. The two others who ejected safely have been identified as Wing Commander Vijay Shelke and Squadron Leader Tejeshwar Singh.

“Today morning at around 1150 hrs, two Hawk aircraft of Surya Kiran aerobatic team of IAF crashed while practicing for the forthcoming Aero India Air Show. Three pilots were occupants. Two pilots ejected and have been evacuated to the Command Hospital. Third pilot sustained fatal injuries. Damage to life and property in the vicinity of crash site is being ascertained. A Court of Inquiry will investigate the cause of the accident.”
IAF statement

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The incident comes just a day before the opening of the Aero India show. Officials have said that the Surya Kiran team will not take part in the aerobatic display.

Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman was en route to the Yelahanka airbase in light of the incident.

"I'm aware of it (incident)," she had earlier said, but did not elaborate further when asked about the accident, reported PTI.

As shown in pictures from the spot, one of the aircraft had a pilot and a co-pilot, while the other had only one pilot. However, only two pilots were reportedly seen ejecting from one aircraft.

The aircraft collided while performing the mirror pass or Calypso pass maneuver – which is where one of the aircraft fly on top of the other but inverted.

The aircraft collided while performing the mirror pass or Calypso pass maneuver – which is where one of the aircraft fly on top of the other but inverted.
The aircraft collided while performing the mirror pass or Calypso pass maneuver – which is where one of the aircraft fly on top of the other but inverted.
(Photo Courtesy: Twitter/@zone5aviation

Emergency vehicles, including search and rescue helicopters, were rushed to the crash site which was close to a residential area.

Teams of civil defence personnel, the police and the Surya Kiran team reached the spot to recover evidence.

The debris had fallen near the ISRO layout, Yelahanka new town area, the police said.

Speaking to The Quint, Vinayak Kumar whose house was damaged due to the crash said "The exterior part of the house which includes the wall-painting, terrace walls and pipes got damaged, while the interior of the house remained unaffected."

He added that nobody was home at the time of the incident.

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In March 2010, two pilots were killed after an Indian Navy aircraft, a Kiran MK II trainer, crashed into a residential building in Hyderabad while performing at an air show.

Who is Wing Commander Sahil Gandhi?

Wing Commander Sahil Gandhi, who succumbed to death after sustaining fatal injuries, was reportedly a pilot with a Sukhoi-30 background.

He was reportedly commissioned on 19 June 2004. On the Hawk Mk-132 aircraft, which is used by the Surya Kiran aerobatics demonstration team, then Squadron Leader Gandhi had told Deccan Herald in 2017:

“The aircraft is electronically intrinsic in nature. This not only makes maintaining it a challenge but also more susceptible to failure.”
Sahil Gandhi to Deccan Herald

Gandhi had also called the aircraft faster than the one used earlier by the aerobatic team and also drew attention to how the aircraft were maintained.

What is the Surya Kiran Aerobatics Team About?

The Surya Kiran aerobatics demonstration team use the Hawk Mk-132 aircraft made by UK-based BAE systems and HAL. The aircraft are powered by the Rolls-Royce Adour 871 engine.

The team has a total of 13 pilots of whom only nine are flying at any given time. Pilots are selected twice a year for a three-year tour of duty.

On an average, the team performs over 30 shows a year, and flies three sorties a day during the training season and two a day while on aerobatics display. The nine aircraft take off in groups of three and join up in close formation, manoeuvring between speeds of 150 to 650 km/h with their wing tips less than 5 metres apart.

The manoeuvres subject the pilots to alternating g-forces between +6 to –1.5.

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