Bengaluru, Feb 19 : IAF pilot Wing Commander Sahil Gandhi died on Tuesday after two Surya Kiran aircraft collided in the air and crashed while rehearsing near the Yelahanka airbase in Bengaluru where the ‘Aero India 2019’ air show begins on Wednesday.
“Gandhi sustained fatal injuries while two other aircrew, Wing Commander V.T Shelke and Squadron Leader T.J. Singh, ejected and were airlifted to Air Force Command Hospital in the city,” an IAF statement said.
The crash occurred around noon on the outskirts of the airbase in the northern part of the city in an open field close to a residential area.
The twin aircraft were Hawk advanced jet trainers and part of the nine-aircraft Surya Kiran Aerobatic Team (SKAT) which displays dare devilry feats and breath-taking formations in the air.
According to witnesses, the two aircraft that were rehearsing for the aerobatic display collided into each other in the air, thereby spiralling and crashing onto the ground below and exploding into fire, billowing thick black smoke in the sky.
Two pilots were seen ejecting out of the crashing aircraft using parachutes and got injured when they landed on the ground, said residents of a nearby residential locality.
Karnataka Director General of Police and chief of Fire and Emergency Services M.N. Reddi said there were no injuries to any civilian on the ground.
“No major damage to any house in ISRO colony. Fire force has completely suppressed the fire,” Reddi tweeted.
The aircraft has been rehearsing at the airbase since February 14 for the 5-day biennial 12th edition of Aero India expo, where global aerospace majors participate to showcase their technologies and products, including fighters, helicopters, military transport aircraft and passenger jets for civil airlines.
Tuesday’s collision is probably the first after the elite Surya Kiran unit was re-grouped in 2015 after a gap of four years but the show-stopping high-risk display flying arm of IAF has had its share of serious accidents.
Surya Kiran, used as a mascot for the IAF to inspire youngsters to take up military aviation, is in its second avatar flying sub-sonic advanced jet trainers Hawk 132 that made an appearance in new livery four years ago after replacing jaded Kiran Mk II intermediate jet trainers.
The Surya Kiran team with Kiran Mk II aircraft was wound up in 2011 but not before a series of accidents.
In January 2009, Wing Commander R.S. Dhaliwal died in a crash near Surya Kiran’s home base Bidar in Karnataka. Another aircraft crashed in December 2007. In March 2006, yet another crash took place in Bidar killing two pilots.
The British-origin Hawks are made in India by Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL). These are used to train pilots in advanced fighter flying skills.
Surya Kiran returned to Aero India air show in Bengaluru in 2017 after a gap of nearly four years.