At least four Indian Air Force officers, including the Air Officer Commanding (AOC) at the Srinagar air base, will face court martial after probe into a Mi-17 helicopter crash revealed serious procedural lapses. The helicopter of the Srinagar-based 154 Helicopter Unit had crashed in Budgam on February 27 when Indian and Pakistani fighter jets were engaged in a dogfight over 100 km away.
Six IAF personnel on board and a civilian on the ground were killed in the crash.
The IAF had launched an enquiry into the incident on how the helicopter crashed within 10 minutes of take-off after eyewitnesses said that a ground-to-air missile may have hit the Mi-17. The Pakistan Air Force had made it clear that it did not shoot down the Indian chopper.
The IAF officer, who was in-charge of the Srinagar air base, is believed to have ordered shooting down the copter, confusing it with an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) of Pakistan. The officer, according to The Tribune, is also being blamed for calling back the Mi-17 chopper when several missiles and gunshots were being fired. The Srinagar Air Force Station should have instead called for landing of the helicopter at a secure base, investigations revealed.
The investigations, according to Economic Times, have moved to the next level where some IAF officers may be charged with culpable homicide not amounting to murder. The next step is the "summary of evidence" in which at least four IAF officers, who were present at the Srinagar air base, could face court martial proceedings and termination of services.
The enquiry is also being done on how the Identity Friend Foe (IFF) system on the chopper didn't work even as there were directions that day that it should be switched on. The IFF helps distinguish between friendly and foe fire. The Mi-17 helicopter was reportedly in touch with the ground controllers moments before the crash. There was no perceived threat of any ground missile being fired at that time.
The IAF has made it clear that it would not spare any of the officers who face criminal charges over serious lapses in the Standard Operation Procedure. The Mi-17 was reportedly shot down by Israel-made Spyder air defence missile that was supposed to protect the Srinagar air base.