Sukhoi crashes in Pokharan, days before exercise

In a major embarrassment for the Air Force, one of its most advanced Su 30 MKI fighters crashed Tuesday evening at the Pokharan range in Rajasthan, days before a showcase exercise there that is to be witnessed by senior government dignitaries as well as the entire diplomatic corps to be flown in from New Delhi.

The aircraft, which was on a night flying training mission, crashed over the range around 7.20 pm. Both pilots managed to safely eject. There was no damage on the ground and a formal inquiry has been ordered into the incident.

While the Air Force is tight lipped on the cause of the crash, a technical defect on the fighter is believed to have led to the accident. The timing of the accident is specially embarrassing as the fighter had been practising for the upcoming Iron Fist exercise that is the showcase exercise of the Air Force.

In fact, a host of dignitaries and top officials are heading for Pokahran Friday for the fire power demonstration as part of the exercise, with President Pranab Mukherjee also likely to attend.

There is no word yet from the Air Force whether the Su 30 MKI fleet has been grounded after the accident. This is the fourth Su 30 MKI to crash. All the crashes have taken place over the past few years and have led to questions on the safety of the fleet.

The first crash was on April 30, 2009 in Rajasthan in which a pilot lost his life. It was attributed to a failure of the digital fly by wire systems. The second crash took place on November 30, 2009 when a newly inducted fighter went down over Rajasthan after it caught fire mid air. The reason for the crash was attributed to manufacturing faults. The third crash took place on December 13, 2011. It was attributed to a human fault during the servicing of the aircraft.

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