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Air Force plane crashes in Sikkim; pilot bailed out, say eyewitnesses

Air Force plane crashes in Sikkim; pilot bailed out, say eyewitnesses

File Picture. (AP)

New Delhi A Jaguar aircraft of the Indian Air Force (IAF) today crashed near Mangam in North Sikkim. The pilot, Flight Lieutenant Yogesh Yadav, bailed out safely. As Flight Lieutenant Yadav gently floated down in a parachute from the heights into the valleys of the mountainous north Sikkim, he was spotted by the Indian Army troops positioned along the border.

For some time when the aircraft went out of radio contact, IAF authorities were perturbed. Its effort to contact him on the radio had failed. Nearby airfields had also been alerted by the IAF about the Jaguar which wasn't either on the radar or replying to radio messages. It was only after the Indian Army position from near Mangam reported that they had spotted the debris of an IAF aircraft that the crash was confirmed.

According to sources, Flight Lieutenant Yadav had taken off from the Hashimara airbase at about 12.28 pm. The IAF lost contact with him after about 35 -40 minutes. The Jaguar was scheduled to fly along the valley at a low altitude.

Hours after the crash the IAF said that Jaguar was on "routine sortie". The wreckage of the plane was found in the general area of Mangan which, as the crow files, is few kilometers away from the Sino-India border. The "reason of the crash will be determined by a court of inquiry, which has been ordered," IAF sources said.

Despite the IAF's bland explanation, the sortie doesn't appear to be "routine" and on the contrary throws broad hints of India's preparedness and plans to deal with China.

To begin with the Jaguar's primary role is not air defence or interception of enemy aircraft. The Jaguar's play a specialised role, that of deep penetration striker aircraft. As a result Jaguar's rarely fly alone. They mostly fly inside an air bubble wherein accompanying planes are assigned the role of protecting the Jaguar's en-route to the target where it unleashes its fire power. In addition, this particular Jaguar belonged to a squadron stationed at the Bhuj airbase in Gujarat which overlooks Pakistan. It had been moved to Hashimara recently. It is not known how many Jaguar aircraft have been moved along with this one. As of now, India has only positioned Su-30 MKi's in the North East to deal with potential Chinese threat.

Also, the significance of North Sikkim cannot be over-emphasized. The Chumbi Valley along the China-India-Bhutan tri-junction - was once a playground of the 20th century great-gamers like Captain Francis YoungHusband on their way to Lasha - jutts into India's like a dagger. To its east is Bhutan. To its south is the thin corridor - also popularly known as the "Chicken's Neck" - running through West Bengal and connecting mainland India to North Eastern states of Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Meghalaya, Nagaland, Tripura, Mizoram and Manipur. As a consequence, the "Chicken's Neck" is one of the most vulnerable areas of India. Disturbing communication or being able to control it would mean that the entire North-East would be cut off from the rest of India. Protecting it from any thrust through the Chumbi Valley is therefore a priority for India. And, one of the ways to prevent a thrust into the "Chicken Neck" from being successful is to be able to cut off the tail and thereby the supplies of the enemy. To do that India would have to deploy deep penetration striker aircraft like the Jaguar.

Refusing to comment on the need to deploy Jaguar aircraft in strategically important area, the IAF said pilots are routinely trained to fly in all kinds of terrain and be ready to meet all situations.
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