HAL draws flak on social media following Mirage crash

For decades, military used poor quality machines and often paid with lives... no Defence Minister stressed on quality at the PSU: ex-Navy chief

At a quiet ceremony, Squadron Leader Siddhartha Negi, 31, was laid to rest at the Kalpalli burial grounds in Bengaluru on Saturday. He was one of the two pilots killed in the Mirage 2000 crash at the Hindustan Aeronautics Limited’s airport on Friday.

The mortal remains of Sqn. Ldr. Samir Abrol, 33, the other test pilot killed in the crash, were flown to Ghaziabad, Uttar Pradesh, where his family is based.

Several theories

The last rites of Sqn. Ldr. Negi were performed in a private ceremony attended by his immediate family and senior officials of the Indian Air Force and the armed forces. Several retired defence personnel in the city also attended. Sqn. Ldr. Negi was given a gun salute.

Social media was abuzz all day over the incident, with several theories put out on the possible reasons for the crash and some sharp observations against HAL, a defence public sector undertaking (DPSU).

The French-origin Mirage 2000 jet had undergone a comprehensive upgrade at HAL and the customer acceptance test was under way when the accident occurred, killing the two young IAF pilots. Officials remained tight-lipped about the cause. One defence official said it was likely a technical issue but stated that the exact sequence of events could only be determined by the Court of Inquiry (CoI).

“The black box that has been recovered is being examined by the CoI,” an official source said. The CoI is headed by the HAL, which is working in coordination with the IAF.

MP’s query

However, on social media, HAL was criticised over the incident. Karnataka MP Rajeev Chandrasekhar put out a strong message on Twitter, “My sources say aircraft was on 2nd acceptance air test after upgrade. One oleo (wheel) came off during take-off and it veered off runway. Pilots ejected both parachutes caught fire in the debris of aircraft…” he said.

He also offered to “ensure legal support” for the families if they wanted accountability from HAL.

Underscoring the gravity of the incident, former Naval chief Admiral Arun Prakash said on Twitter, “The Mirage was not being flown by ordinary pilots; these were superbly trained Aircraft and Systems Testing Establishment (ASTE) test pilots.”

He said the military has, for decades, flown “poor quality HAL machines and often paid with young lives but no reckoning for HAL management.”

“Time to focus on the leadership and directors of this giant PSU,” he noted, and added that HAL-bashing may be justified up to a point, but it was time to question our elected representatives too.

“Thirty-five Defence Ministers have overseen this giant DPSU (HAL) since 1947. While pampering its unions, none demanded quality, productivity and aeronautical innovation of HAL or hand-picked a dynamic CEO,” he tweeted.

The loss of the two highly skilled young pilots gave reason to recollect the IAF chief’s words just a day before the incident, that while indigenisation is important, it comes with a price.

Speaking at a seminar, Air Chief Marshal B.S. Dhanoa noted that a crucial contribution to all the successes of indigenisation was also the “supreme sacrifice of IAF’s pilots in testing these aircraft to battleworthy standards.” He said the IAF had lost 17 pilots and engineers in air accidents during the testing and evaluation of indigenous prototyped aircraft.

Air Chief Marshal Dhanoa further said that of the 19 category-I accidents on HF-24 Marut, 12 were due to technical defects, of which five were fatal accidents. “But that did not stop us from encouraging indigenisation,” he said.

It goes to the credit of the Aeronautical Development Agency, which designed and conceptualised the Light Combat Aircraft and the National Flight Test Centre, which flight-tested and further refined the aircraft without any major mishaps, he stated.

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Printable version | Jun 1, 2020 12:10:38 AM |

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