- Six Super Hercules were inducted at the Hindon airbase
- In 2004, the IAF had lost another C-130J in a crash near Gwalior
- A high-level court of inquiry has been ordered into the mishap
A C-130J ‘Super Hercules’ aircraft being flown by the commanding officer of the elite ‘Veiled Vipers’ squadron of IAF has been left badly-damaged after it crashed into a pole and other structures while taxing on the tarmac in the high-altitude Thoise airfield in Ladakh recently.
Sources say the IAF is now conducting a high-level court of inquiry (CoI) into the unusual mishap after relieving the pilot, Group Captain Jasveen Singh Chatrath, of his command of the 77 Squadron (Veiled Vipers) based at Hindon airbase on the outskirts of New Delhi.
The accident has currently left the IAF with only four of the six C-130J tactical airlifters, which are configured for `special operations’, inducted from the US from February 2011 onwards. The IAF had earlier lost a C-130J during “a tactical low-level training sortie” after it crashed near Gwalior in March 2014, killing the five personnel on board.
Group Captain Chatrath, along with his co-pilot and weapons systems operator, in turn, was on a night sortie on the C-130J to the military airfield at Thoise, which is the staging area for the Siachen Glacier-Saltoro Ridge region, when the accident took place on December 13.
The IAF, which has kept the incident under wraps till now, refused to say anything on the matter. Sources, however, said the pilots apparently failed to keep the C-130J on the “centreline of the taxiway” after landing at the airfield at an altitude of over 10,000-feet.
“They mistook another line to be the centreline (which provides obstacle clearance) at the airfield which has restricted space for manoeuvre. One of the wings and propeller of the aircraft then hit the pole and some other objects with great impact. Whether the centreline and other lines were marked properly and all other factors are being examined by the CoI,” said a source.
Group Captain Chatrath himself has a good reputation in the IAF for his professional competence, and has held important postings during his career, including project management of the AN-32 aircraft upgrade in Ukraine. “It’s a freak accident, which has no bearing on his professional competence,” said an officer.
In all, India has ordered 13 C-130Js from the US for over $2.1 billion. While the first six planes were inducted at the Hindon airbase, the rest are earmarked for the second C-130J squadron to be based at Panagarh in West Bengal for the eastern front with China.
In conjunction with 10 C-17 Globemaster-III gigantic aircraft, also acquired from the US for $ 4.1 billion, the C-130Js have provided strategic airlift and power-projection capabilities to India, which can now swiftly transport combat-ready troops and weapons to the border with China in times of conflict.
In August 2013, for instance, a C-130J had for the first time landed at the rudimentary airstrip in Daulat Beg Oldi (eastern Ladakh) at an altitude of 16,614-feet, the highest such advanced landing ground in the world that overlooks the strategic Karakoram Pass and is just about 7-km from the Line of Actual Control with China. The rugged C-17s and C-130Js have also been extensively used for providing humanitarian aid and disaster relief in India as well as the extended neighborhood.