The Indian Air Force has removed an officer commanding at the Srinagar air base in connection with the crash of an Mi-17 helicopter in Budgam, Jammu and Kashmir, on February 27, the Hindustan Times reported on Tuesday.
A Court of Inquiry is still investigating the crash and a final report is yet to be submitted. The air officer commanding, who is the senior-most officer on the base, was reportedly removed as the crash happened on his watch.
Six personnel of the Indian Air Force and a civilian were killed after the Mi-17 crashed in Budgam soon after taking off from the Srinagar airfield on a routine mission. The crash took place when jets of Indian and Pakistani air forces were engaged in a dogfight in Nowshera sector in Jammu and Kashmir.
An unidentified senior defence ministry official said the Air Force is considering if it should slap criminal charges against those found guilty after the investigation. “There will be no tolerance of lapses,” the official said. “Culpable homicide not amounting to murder is one of the charges that IAF is contemplating pressing against those found guilty by the CoI [Court of Inquiry]. Unprecedented as it might be, IAF leadership is clear that such lapses are not repeated.”
According to The Economic Times, the inquiry is looking into the role of a senior officer who ordered a ground-based missile to be fired shortly before the crash. At least four officers involved in the decision to launch the ground-based missile may face charges of different degrees.
The inquiry will also look into why the Identify Friend or Foe system, a radar-based identification system, on the chopper did not work.
According to the Hindustan Times, a preliminary inquiry into the crash has allegedly found several lapses. “Ideally, the helicopter should have been sent away to safer zone instead of it being called back to the base,” another senior defence ministry official told the newspaper. “The incoming helicopter should have been vectored into the pre-designated zone meant for friendly aircraft to hold till the alert was called off.”
The helicopter was not marked a “red target” by the Air Force’s Integrated Air Command and Control System at Barnala, Punjab which monitors incoming aircraft from Pakistan. “A Spyder [air defence system] unit reported a lock-on and the order to fire was issued, possibly under the impression that the target was an incoming unmanned aerial vehicle,” an unidentified officer told The Economic Times.