An Indian Air Force inquiry has found five officers guilty for the crash of a helicopter in friendly fire over Srinagar in February 27 when India and Pakistan were engaged in a short aerial battle. The officers, which comprise of a Group Captain, two Wing Commanders and two Flight Lieutenants, have been found to have not followed procedures that downed our own Mi-17 V5 helicopter in Budgam, which killed all six IAF personnel.
The incident happened when the IAF and Pakistan Air Force fighters were clashing over Srinagar in response to the IAF strike at Balakote. The Balakote aerial strike was in retaliation to the Pulwama attack in which over 40 CRPF personnel were killed.
The helicopter was shot down by a Spyder Medium Range Surface to Air Missile, an Israeli-origin weapon when Indian air defences were on high alert. “Five officers have been found blameworthy by the court of inquiry and the report has been sent to the Air Headquarters for further action,” government sources said. There is also confusion over the Identification Friend of Foe (IFF) system on the helicopter, which intimates whether an asset is friendly or belonging to an adversary. Experts say either the IFF identification – which reverts with a specially coded signal to the air defence battery – was not sought, or it was switched off or was malfunctioning.
The helicopter, belonging to the 154 Helicopter Unit in Srinagar, crashed within 10 minutes of taking off. Worse, the black box – or the Cockpit Voice Recorder and Flight Data Recorder – was also missing from the site, with the IAF suspecting it to have been taken by the villagers. “They should not be punished severely as the mistake was genuine and certainly not deliberate. Such incidents like accidental friendly fire are common in wartime as the entire military setup in J&K was on hair trigger alert. The mistake happened in legitimate discharge of their duties and were not an act of treason,” said a senior retired IAF officer, a former fighter pilot.
Earlier, the Air Officer Commanding (AOC) of the Srinagar Air Base was removed following the MI-17 chopper crash. An earlier report by The Print had said that an IAF officer and three others posted at the Srinagar Air Base could be booked for “culpable homicide not amounting to murder” in the 27 February crash.