Three IAF pilots die in test flight crash (Lead)

March 6th, 2009 - 10:47 pm ICT by IANS  

Bangalore, March 6 (IANS) Three Indian Air Force (IAF) test pilots were burnt to death Friday when the prototype Saras aircraft of the state-run National Aerospace Laboratories (NAL) crashed and caught fire in an open field near Bidadi, about 30 km from here, a top official said.
An IAF official said the deceased pilots were Squadron Leader Ilayiraj, Wing Commander Praveen and Wing Commander Shah.

“The second prototype of our small aircraft was on a regular flight test when the tragic mishap occurred claiming the precious lives of three young IAF pilots. We are very distressed and feel sad for the loss of their lives. Our sympathies to the bereaved families,” NAL director A.R. Upadhya told IANS after he rushed here from Hyderabad on learning about the accident.

Earlier, an official of the IAF’s Aircraft Systems & Testing Establishment (ASTE) said the ill-fated Saras-PT2 took off from the state-run Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) airport in the city at 2.55 p.m. on a test flight southwards and crashed in an open field near Bidadi around 4.05 p.m. while returning from Mysore.

“An hour after the aircraft took off from our runway, we lost contact with it. As we were trying to ascertain what happened, the Bangalore rural police called our air traffic control (ATC) and informed that a yellow-coloured aircraft had crashed in a field and caught fire. A police spokesman also said there bodies were found in the charred wreckage,” the ASTE official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Within 30 minutes, the ASTE rushed a few IAF and NAL officials by helicopter to the mishap site for rescue operations.

Meanwhile, the rural police cordoned off the wreckage site to keep away curious crowds from the nearby villages and fenced the place. An ambulance from the IAF Command Hospital was rushed to the spot to recover the bodies.

“An inquiry will be ordered in consultation with the IAF. The director general of civil aviation (DGCA) will conduct the probe. It is too early to say what caused the crash. Efforts are on to recover the black box and ascertain from the ASTE what transpired between the Saras crew and the ATC during the flight, especially in the last minutes,” Upadhya said.

The 14-seater multi-role Saras has been designed and developed by the Bangalore-based NAL for use by the military and civil aviation sector. NAL is a constituent of the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR).

The Bangalore rural police said no civilian was injured or killed on the ground as the plane crashed in an open field near a village.

Named after the Indian crane, the airframe of Saras-PT2 was built with lighter composites to reduce its overall weight by about 400kg from its first prototype, which was overweight by about 900 kg. The aircraft is powered by two Canadian Pratt & Whitney turbo-prop engines.

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