I drove from Shimla on 10th morning to Delhi to be with Bipin Rawat on his last journey. Bipin was my student in Higher Command course.
Now about the accident. First and foremost let us stop speculating. Let me be candid and illustrate it with an example. Mr Subrahmanyan Swamy tweeted that CDS helicopter might have 'BLOWN' up. I politely tweeted back to tell him not to use such words, which may cause unnecessary sensationalisation of an aircash.
I further advised him that had the helicopter blown up, the debris would have been spread over huge area. TV reported clips show the crash site as a very small area, which is normally created by a direct impact.
Before proceeding any further may I humbly submit that it is nothing short of preposterous assumptions/opinions to believe that aircrew was not adequately qualified and that they were not competent for the mission.
Let me narrate a VVIP fatal helicopter crash event of which I was a witness of events as they unfolded leading to crash.
It was 12th November 1997. As the Chief Instructor, College of Airwarfare, I was heading a team of 15 officers from three services to north east area tour. We flew to Tawang in two Mi-8 HELICOPTERS on 12th November around 1100h. On arrival we learnt of Mr NVN Somu's visit, then Minister of state for defence on 14th November.
14th Nov was a bright sunny morning. Our visit plan was suitably modified and a non planned event of Lunch at Bum-La with minister was scheduled on the request of GOC, Maj Gen Nagpal. There were four choppers on Tawang helipad. Two Mi-8s carrying higher command team under my command and two chetaks of Army Aviation. I was surprised as to how and why minister was being flown in a single engine heptr.
As I exited the mess after sumptuous b'fast at 9 am, it was still sunny but wisps of clouds on hill peaks had started appearing. Our scheduled departure was after minister took off at 0930. By that time wisps of clouds had become small patches. I shared my concern with GOC about weather. Minister's programme stayed. One of Army heptr was found to be unserviceable. It delayed the take off further by 15 minutes.
By now I had discussed with MI-8 crew and decided that higher command team will go by road. Course members opposed my decision because road journey is treacherous. But my decision stayed. We left Tawang by road.
To cut the long story short, Mr Somu's helicopter had crashed beyond Lungur post. All occupants died. Incidentally as per the route plan the helicopter had no business to be where it crashed. Why it went there, I wo'nt comment although I know the details of route change taken arbitrarily.
Road journey to Bum-La was with 15 extremely disgruntled course students. Bum -La had already started snowing before noon. We learnt about the crash there. Return trip was in deafening silence. We returned from Bum-La at around 1900h. I opted to have dinner my room alone unlike other days when students and I dined together.
Around 2030 all 15 students trooped into my room to apologise for their behaviour. One can never predict when one will face adverse weather or terrain. One has to be ahead of events. That is the CARDINAL PRINCIPLE OF SAFETY IN AVIATION.
While I know the details of enquiry, I will avoid mentioning. I will only mention one glaring omission. In those terrain single helicopters do not fly with VIPs. Also single engine helicopter is not used. On purpose I am avoiding mention of further details lest it open a pandopras box.
As far as I am concerned crash took place because of INABILITY TO TAKE A "NO-GO" DECISION and not because of pilot's incompetence and/or machine failure. Incidentally CoI established the cause as 'GEAR BOX' failure. Less said the better. CoI enquiry findings in such cases leave a lot of issues by design starting with the infamous MorarJi's crash. Would this enquiry be any better? I only wonder.
Incidentally Mr Somu's crash enquiry was conducted following laid down procedures. No Tri Service Enquiry 'GIMMICK' as is happening in the instant case.
In the instant case CVR will be the clinching evidence. What was the line of conversation among aircrew, CDS's Senior Staff and others, if recorded.
"WE MUST REACH THERE FOR THE ENGAGEMENT, NO MATTER WHAT" syndrome might be the primary cause of this unfortunate crash, which snuffed 13 lives, with 14th battling for survival.
I have my views on cause of crash but I would avoid mentioning it for obvious reasons. But I must add that flying machines flown by extremely competent aircrew and exceptionally well trained technical staff do not crash until and unless the most prominent external factor in form of human intervention from outside cockpit at wrong time and place intervenes, flying indiscipline, and/or poor decision making by aircrew included.
May their souls rest in peace!
P.S. I am a qualified Aircraft Accident Investigator having successfully presided over major IAF fighter crashes.
My only submission is that WEATHER and MACHINES do not recognise occupants status.
About The Author
Gp Capt. Tej Prakash Srivastava has served in Iraq and is a graduate of both DSSC and AWC. He was Directing Staff at DSSC and Chief Instructor at College of Air Warfare. He Served at Air HQ, commanded a MiG-21 Sqn and headed the IAF establishment of Strike Corps during 'Operation Parakram'. He has authored a book titled 'Profligate Governance – Implications for National Security'. He has written extensively on international and strategic affairs and Defence Procurement Procedures. The IAF officer graduated from the NDA in June 1970 and trained at AFA with 107th Pilots Course. He can be reached at Email: [email protected]