A day after Indian Air Force (IAF) carried out an aerial strike in Pakistan, the jet fighters of the nuclear-armed countries in South Asia were engaged in a dogfight in J&K when one of the Mi-17 helicopters crashed in Budgam. The chopper crashed at around 10 am on February 27 near Srinagar airport.
Six IAF personnel lost their lives in the crash. Now, with the IAF confirming that the chopper was downed by India's ground-based air defence system, families of the victims have accused IAF of hiding facts. The family of Sergeant Vikrant Sherawat said that they feel cheated over being kept in the dark in the past months. The IAF had informed the family members that the helicopter crashed due to "technical fault".
Sergeant Vikrant Sherawat's father said, "We had the right to know the circumstances in which he died. We don't understand politics. But it could be because of the elections that the facts were hidden from us. The way the Pulwama attack was politicised to seek electoral mileage, it seems the matter [friendly fire] was hushed up to avoid embarrassment to the government in election season."
The Hindu had earlier reported that Sherawat's widow Suman had read a news article which mentioned that the chopper had crashed due to friendly fire. Sherawat's mother Kanta Devi was also told about the possibility of friendly fire by a couple of his IAF friends from nearby villages but advised her to keep quiet. Devi added, "News reports suggest the senior-most officer among those guilty is being transferred as punishment. I demand that all officers responsible be given strict punishment."
Court of Inquiry
The IAF has ordered a Court of Inquiry (CoI) in the matter. The initial findings of the inquiry suggest several violations of standard operating procedures. The investigation will also probe why the Identify Friend or Foe (IFF) system, which was supposed to be on the helicopter, didn't work when the missile was fired. Moreover, the role of a senior IAF officer who ordered a ground-based missile to be fired is also said to have come under scrutiny.