- Mirage 2000 crashed on Friday, killing two young Air Force test pilots
- Hindustan Aeronautics Limited criticised over quality of aircraft
- HAL test pilot, a retired Air Force officer, defends record
"Before an aircraft goes to the IAF, its standards are good enough for me to bet my life on it."
"Remember, every pilot in the IAF is also betting his life on my judgement."
Strong words from a senior Hindustan Aeronautics Limited test pilot who flew and handed over the very same Mirage 2000 fighter that crashed on its take-off run on Friday in Bengaluru.
Two young Indian Air Force pilots, 33-year-old Squadron Leader Samir Abrol and 31-year-old Squadron Leader Siddhartha Negi were killed in the crash even though they had been able to eject as the French-designed jet careened down the runway, broke through a barrier and a wall before exploding at about 10:25 am that morning.
Describing the circumstances of the crash in a note which has been circulated, the HAL test pilot, a senior retired IAF officer himself, recalled the immediate moments after the accident.
The officer, who NDTV reached out to, does not want to be identified since the investigations are still on.
"I was eye witness to the accident. Also part of the bunch of guys who reached the crash site first. Was impressed by some HAL civilians risking their lives to pull out the pilot from the burning wreckage. Unfortunately, he had not survived the impact. The other pilot had fallen clear of the wreckage. When we reached him, he was still breathing, but unconscious. To me, it looked like he would make it. But internal injuries claimed him on the way to hospital," he said.
The unofficial reaction by the HAL test pilot, comes at a time when HAL has been repeatedly targeted in the media and online for delivering a faulty jet to the Indian Air Force. The two officers, who were killed, were part of the IAF's Aircraft and Systems Testing Establishment (ASTE) and were flying acceptance sorties before handing over the fighter to one of the three Mirage 2000 squadrons in the force.
"We are a part of the same team. The Air Force's loss is my loss," said the HAL test pilot who also pointed out that there was nothing wrong with the fighter jet in previous test flights.
''In this particular case, we had finished testing and handed over the aircraft to ASTE. The first sortie [was] flown by late [Squadron Leader] Abrol. [He] had only three words of debrief over the phone 'Everything OK sir'."
The ill-fated sortie "was to be flown with a target aircraft to check radar performance. A comparatively benign [flight] profile. The accident happened on [the] take off roll."
NDTV has independently learned that the ill-fated Mirage 2000 had been flown successfully six times by HAL test pilots who had certified the French-designed fighter which is being comprehensively upgraded in India. In 2011-2012, India had signed a Rs 17,547 crore deal (inclusive of new weapons) with France to transform the capabilities of the Mirage which played a stellar role during the Kargil war by striking targets on Tiger Hill and elsewhere using laser guided bombs. Two of the fighters were upgraded by Dassault, the French manufacturer of the fighter, in France while the remaining 47 fighters are being upgraded by Hindustan Aeronautics in Bengaluru.
Pointing out that there could be multiple causes for the accident, the HAL test pilot said, ''There could be any number of reasons ranging from technical defect, maintenance failure to pilot error. As of now, there are more questions than answers."
"As far as HAL producing sub-standard aircraft, remember that we fly these aircraft to its limits before anyone from [the] IAF touches it."
An Indian Air Force Court of Inquiry is looking into the circumstances of the Mirage 2000 crash last Friday. Hindustan Aeronautics Limited is part of the investigating team.