NEW DELHI: Indian Air Force (IAF) Squadron Leader Meet Kumar, flying a MiG-21 fighter jet, took off from Pathankot air base on Wednesday on a routine sortie. A little about an hour later, the aircraft crashed near Kangra in Himachal Pradesh, killing the officer who shared a very special bond with the jet and had spent more time with it than his wife.
Eyewitnesses recall that even during the last minutes, he appeared to have steered away the aircraft from the civilian area towards the fields to ensure that no harm was caused to the people living in that locality.
As soon as the news of the crash and his unfortunate death came out, a video shot by the Indian Air Force - A Date With An Airwarrior - featuring him went viral. Dressed up in his uniform, with his gear on, Squadron Leader Meet Kumar, can be heard recalling the special bond that he shared with this machine, which he said was much more than his love for his wife.
Here is the transcript of his statement:
"My name is Squadron Leader Meet Kumar. I am posted to 18 Squad. I have been flying this beautiful machine called MiG-21."
"This machine is a multi-role aircraft wherein it can undertake any sort of missions. This aircraft is, particularly for a high landing speed. Every landing is different. On this aircraft, we have a 57 mm rocket. We can carry high-calibre and low calibre bombs. The aircraft is capable of carrying 8 bombs at a time and when you are flying this aircraft, you feel none other than God."
"The bond that I share with this machine is very rare. It is more than my wife. We know each other very well. I have spent more time with this machine than my wife."
Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman expressed "deep grief" over his death. "Our heartfelt condolences to the family of brave pilot Sqn Ldr Meet Kumar, who we lost in the fateful crash," she said. A Court of Inquiry (COI) has been ordered into the accident.
This is not the first instance of a pilot being killed in a MiG crash. In fact, the IAF has been grappling with rising incidents of accidents involving its flying platforms.
Minister of State for Defence Subhash Bhamre had on Wednesday told the Lok Sabha that a total of 25 accidents involving IAF aircraft have been reported since 2015-16. He said that a total of 39 people died in the accidents and that IAF lost all the aircraft involved in the crashes. He said there were five accidents involving aircraft of the Army during the period in which four people were killed.
The MiG-21 jets were inducted into IAF in the early 1960s and many of these planes have been lost in crashes.