Naval pilots' heroism prevented civilian casualties in Hyd



Naval pilots` heroism prevented civilian casualties in Hyd Zeenews Bureau

Hyderabad: A naval aerobatic plane, flying in a formation during an airshow, on Wednesday crashed into a three- storeyed residential building here, killing two pilots and injuring seven persons on the ground. The Kiran MK-II plane, which was part of the 'Sagar Pawan' aerobatic team participating in a display at the India Aviation show, crashed around noon, causing a loud bang in the New Bowenpally area, about four kms from the Old Begumpet Airport.

Navy chief Nirmal Verma, who was in Bhopal, said the pilots had not ejected. "So the possibility is either time wise there was a problem or they (the pilots) were making all efforts to ensure that damage is minimised to any civil area. They are no more," he said.

"The inputs that I have got is that about seven people are injured," he said, adding, "I have to wait for more information. It is premature for me to say what could have caused the crash at this stage." An inquiry has been ordered, he added.

The pilots were Commander SK Maurya and Lt Commander Rahul Nair, a navy spokesman said in New Delhi. Nair belongs to Delhi.

The charred bodies of both the pilot and co-pilot were removed by defence personnel. "Four people on the ground were injured. They have been shifted to hospital," Hyderabad Police Commissioner AK Khan told reporters at the crash scene.

Khan said the plane crashed into the residential building which had a cellphone tower on top. A car parked outside the building was smashed as one of the plane's wings fell on it. The whole area has been cordoned off and fire brigade personnel used Aviation Film Forming Foam (AFFF) to cover the oil spillage on the building.

AP Chief Minister K Rosaiah conveyed heartfelt condolences to the bereaved family members of the pilot and co-pilot who were killed in the crash, according to an official release from the Chief Minister's office here.

The Chief Minister asked the air show organisers and others to take utmost care and prevent such accidents during the show which are being witnessed by a large number of people.

United States Ambassador to India Timothy J Roemer also condoled the death of the pilots. "What began as such a promising day has sadly ended so tragically. As the full extent of tragedy is still becoming known, all our thoughts and prayers are with those who lost their lives or were injured and with their families," he said. Roemer is in Hyderabad leading the American delegation to the air show.

How it happened

Thousands of people were enjoying the spectacle soon after the inaugural ceremony of India Aviation 2010, India's international aviation exhibition and conference, when disaster struck, sending thick clouds of smoke into the air.

The aircraft, part of the aerobatics team that uses four trainers, was unable to pull up from a dive and went into a spiral as the planes were breaking away from the formation and going in different directions.

In the audience were union Civil Aviation Minister Praful Patel, Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister K. Rosaiah as well as ambassadors of the US and France besides senior government officials.

At least 40 aircraft of national and international companies were parked at the airport for static display as part of the five-day event.

According to witnesses, the plane suddenly lost height and crashed into the mobile phone towers on top of the building. Some people claimed hearing a loud boom, after which the plane went down.

"The aircraft which was diving had started turning upside down. I initially thought it to be a part of a manoeuvre but a few second later it crashed," said an eyewitness.

Black smoke billowed from the building after the crash and firemen were seen at work. Fuel could also be seen dripping from the mangled remains of the aircraft. The third floor of the building had suffered major damage.

Residents of the eight flats in the building and surrounding houses were in a state of shock. At least two women were seen crying.

Said N. Ashok, who was in his house at the time: "I heard a loud noise and rushed out to see flames."

Some people were injured in the building, a part of which was badly damaged. The debris fell on a parked but empty car, crushing it.

Police, which reached the crash site, kept at bay a large crowd of onlookers which had gathered there and put a cordon around the area.

A senior police officer, supervising the rescue operations, said the bodies of the pilots had been charred and one of those wounded on the ground had suffered burn injuries.

He said that one parachute found in the area had apparently not opened properly.

A rare team

Commander S.K. Maurya and Lt. Commander Rahul Nair were part of the 16-member team that had last flown during the MiG 29 induction ceremony in Goa last month.

The team gave its maiden performance May 11, 2003, on the occasion of the Golden Jubilee of Naval Aviation at Kochi.

"The team has since performed at Mumbai, Pune, Goa (Dabolim, Miramar, Mandovi), Kochi, Chennai, Visakhapatnam and Kolkata on 46 different occasions and occupied a place of pride in public imagination," says a note circulated at India Aviation 2010.

"Graceful and dynamic, Sagar Pawan embodies the joy of flying on the edge," the note says.

The team was performing soon after the inaugural ceremony of the international aviation exhibition and conference when one of the aircrafts crashed into a building near the airport.

It was in early 1970s that the indigenously built aircraft Kiran Mk I was inducted. In 1986, an upgraded version of the aircraft, Kiran Mk II was inducted in Indian Navy.

The Sagar Pawan team is part of Indian Naval Air squadron 551, nicknamed 'phantoms'. It has its genesis in the Naval Jet Flight formed at Sulur, near Coimbatore, way back in September 1958. The squadron was formally commissioned Sep 5, 1961 and shifted to its present location at Dabolim, Goa in 1964.

It is one of the only two naval aerobatic teams in the world--the other being the 'Blue Angels' of the US Navy.

Entire fleet grounded

Meanwhile, the Navy has grounded its entire fleet of Kiran aircraft in the wake of the crash.

The Navy has a fleet a 20 Kiran aircraft -- 12 Mk-I and eight Mk II aircraft -- which are based in Goa.

"As per the standard operating procedure, the aircraft will not fly till the time they are cleared by the Board of Inquiry (BOI) looking into today's mishap," Navy officials said here.

They added that if the probe team found no problems with the aircraft, the fleet would be airborne soon.

Agencies’ inputs