Six Indian Air Force personnel and a civilian died after an aircraft crashed in Jammu and Kashmir’s Budgam district on Wednesday morning. The Indian Air Force said the incident occurred soon after the Mi-17 chopper took off from the Srinagar airfield on a routine mission.
It is unclear yet what aircraft it was, or what caused the crash near Garand Kalan. A court of inquiry has been ordered to investigate the accident.
The civilian has been identified as 18-year-old Kifayat Hussain Ganai who was talking on the phone when the crash occurred. Ganai’s uncle Gulzar Ahmed said no officials showed up for half-an-hour after the crash occurred. “It was just civilians moving closer and trying to douse the fire,” Ahmed said.
A clash broke out when the police fired shots in the air to clear the crowd gathered at the site. Locals said they were trying to retrieve the bodies trapped in the debris.
Ghulam Mustafa, a government employee who lives in the area, praised the pilot. “I salute him,” Mustafa said. “He must be a great person. He avoided civilian areas, sacrificed his own life but saved many others.”
Several news channels, including News18 and Republic TV, reported that the crash occurred due to a technical fault. The incident comes amid a backdrop of heightened tensions in Jammu and Kashmir and reports of airspace violations, a day after India carried out targeted strikes on what New Delhi has said was a terror camp in Pakistani territory.
Pakistan Armed Forces spokesperson Major General Asif Ghafoor said Islamabad had no involvement in the crash. “There are reports of crash of an Indian aircraft on the Indian side, we had no engagement with that aircraft,” he said.
Eyewitnesses said they heard a loud explosion after the jet crashed at around 10.15 am. “There was a huge plume of smoke emanating from the spot,” a resident of the area told Scroll.in. “It’s a mountainous area and it witnesses a lot of air traffic due to its proximity to the Srinagar airport.”
Unidentified officials told PTI that the aircraft broke into two and caught fire immediately. The identity of the deceased is yet to be ascertained, they added. ABP news claimed that the aircraft was a MiG 21, a fighter jet, though there is no official confirmation yet. According to ANI, it was an Mi-17 transport helicopter.
The crash came a day after the Indian Air Force’s pre-dawn strike on Jaish-e-Mohammed’s biggest terror training camp across the border in Balakot. The operation, conducted by 12 Mirage 2000 jets, reportedly killed several terrorists and trainers of the outfit, which is led by Masood Azhar.
Hours after Pakistan had claimed that its Air Force shot down two Indian Air Force jets after they crossed the Line of Control, its armed forces spokesperson Major General Asif Ghafoor on Wednesday clarified that its Air Force had detained only one Indian Air Force pilot. Ghafoor identified him as Wing Commander Abhinandan and said that the Indian pilot was being treated in accordance with military ethics.