Search operations are on to locate a MiG 29 fighter aircraft of the Indian Air Force that crashed during a night-flying exercise in Himachal Pradesh's Lahaul and Spiti valley on Tuesday. Till Wednesday night, IAF personnel and the Lahaul and Spiti district administration could not trace any wreckage. The fate of the pilot is unknown. Two IAF choppers were pressed into the search operation, officials said.

There is no official confirmation on the number of people on board the aircraft. The aircraft might have fallen into the adjoining mountains of Chamba district, said Rajeev Shanker, District Magistrate of Lahaul and Spiti. Two more choppers would conduct the aerial survey on Thursday, he said.

Fireball formation

Residents of Chokhang village on the Keylong-Udaipur highway and about 40 km from the district headquarters informed the police on Tuesday about the crash. Some of them heard a loud sound and noticed a fireball formation in the sky.

Two MiG-29 aircraft of the Western Air Command on Tuesday took off from Adampur in Jalandhar for a night-flying exercise in high altitude. During a turn, one of them crashed into a mountain.

Lahaul-Spiti District Superintendent of Police Khajana Ram said they were informed of the crash at 11 p.m. on Tuesday and the rescue teams reached the area by 3 a.m. “As it is a high altitude area, we are facing difficulty in locating the wreckage,” he said.

The Chamba district administration has sent a team of trekkers to locate the wreckage in the Bharmaur area. But Chamba Deputy Commissioner Sharab Negi said: “The area where the IAF believes the wreckage could be recovered is rugged, cold and inhospitable, and we have requested the Air Force to conduct an aerial survey. Surveying the area on foot can take two to three days.”

This is the seventh air crash involving the IAF's fighter aircraft this year and the second this month. On October 7, a MiG-21 crashed near the Uttarlai airport in Rajasthan's Barmer district.