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Wednesday 14 December 2011

Sukhoi-30 crashes near Pune, pilots safe

The Indian Air Force (IAF) suffered another jolt when one of its top-of-theline fighter jets, a Sukhoi-30, crashed near Pune, raising fresh flight safety concerns. The pilot and the weapon system officer survived as they ejected before the aircraft went down.
It's the third crash involving a Sukhoi, the IAF's more recent and most-advanced aircraft compared with a predominantly ageing fleet of fighters. The Sukhoi's induction started in the 1990s and in 2009, two aircraft crashed.
The first incident was attributed to a defect in the aircraft's fly-by-wire system and placement of some of the control switches in the cockpit. The second accident also occurred because of a technical defect after ingestion of a foreign object in the engine.
The IAF has been grappling with the problem of frequent crashes involving the oldest fighter in its fleet - Mig-21 - for long. Five of these Soviet- era jets have crashed since July alone.
This year has already seen eight crashes, including that of a Mig-29 in the mountains of Himachal Pradesh where the pilot, Squadron Leader Dharmender Singh Tomar's body remained untraced for days.
The IAF has lost 30 fighters and 10 helicopters in the past three years resulting in the deaths of 13 pilots. Half of these accidents involved Mig- 21s.
The numbers are unusually high and despite constant focus on flight safety issues, the crashes have occurred at a frequent interval.
The Sukhoi that crashed on Tuesday in Pune was being flown by an experienced pilot, Wing Commander G. S. Suhail, who was accompanied by Flight Lieutenant U. Nautiyal. Lohegaon in Pune is one of the prominent bases of the IAF. It was from the same base that President Pratibha Patil took off for a sortie in a Sukhoi.
Despite the recent crashes, the IAF maintains that its flight safety record had, in fact, improved in the past 10 years. It had set a target accident rate of 0.2 per 10,000 hours of flying but that is expected to go up after the recent crashes.
The crash rate per 10,000 hours of flying attributed to technical defects and human error have also come down from 0.68 and 0.38 in 2000- 01 to 0.26 in 2009-10.

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