Himanshu Nitnaware (- dt@deshdoot.com) |

Nashik: A Sukhoi-30MKI fighter jet flown for testing on Wednesday morning crashed in the fields after its landing gear failed to deploy.

Both the pilots ejected safely while a farm labourer was sustained minor burns due to the impact.

The aircraft manufactured by Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) crashed in Vavi Shivar of Pimpalgaon Baswant area around 15 kms from Ozar air base from where it took-off. The incidence is the first reported of a Sukhoi-30 crashing in Nashik where it is manufactured.

The Sukhoi-30 jet, SB-210 took-off from Ozar air base at 9.31 am for testing carrying two test pilots. However, when the pilots were preparing for landing around 10.30 am, they realised the landing gears had failed.

“Information was received that all attempts to deploy the landing gear had failed. The pilots were constantly in touch with the air traffic control for the next half an hour,” said an official from the salvage team.

The plane was newly built and was a part of next year’s production, the official said adding that there was no paint on the plane and was purely flown for testing purposes.
The official said that it was told to fly the jet until the fuel of the plane ran out and crash it in a safe area.

“The pilots then looked for safe zone with less habitation and protecting three high voltage lines before leaving the control of the plane and ejecting,” the official said adding that pilots ejected three kilometres before the crash and landed around 1.5 km away from the crash site. The plane crashed around 11.15 am.

The Air Force pilots have been identified as L Vishwas and Prashant Nair. The later was flying the aircraft while L Vishwas was a co-pilot who suffered injuries at spinal cord during the ejection process.

The quick response team from HAL, fire brigade and other emergency teams were immediately pressed into action after which the pilots were rescued through an HAL helicopter and admitted medical reasons.

The impact of the aircraft was such that it bore a crater 12 feet deep and 30 metres wide at the point of impact. The plane blasted catching fire and its debris spread across two km stretch. The crash caused damage to pomegranate, grapes and cucumber farms in the surrounding area.

The incident caught everyone’s attention in the village and neighbouring areas. Photographs and videos of the incident went viral within minutes.

“I was working in the grape fields where the jet crashed. We realised the plane was flying too low than its usual height. Soon the pilots ejected and knew the plane was going to crash,” said Chandrakant Purkar a labourer in the village who witnessed the incident.

Purkar said everyone ran for their lives not knowing where the plane would crash. “My colleague Shyam Niphade sustained minor burns on hands and body as he was working few feet away from crash site,” he added.

An eye witness Sanjay Jagtap residing 50 feet away from the crash site said, “I was about to leave on my motorcycle for work when I saw the plane coming down. There were four members of my family inside and thought the plane would crash right into it.”
His family member Chaya Jagtap who was filling water right outside the house said, “The walls of the entire house shook and we thought the plane crashed in some part of the house.”

Chaya said she couldn’t hear anything for the next 15 minutes and the entire area was covered with dark black smoke making it difficult to breathe.

Another member of the family said they immediately moved the eight month old baby to a safe spot.

“I was planting tomatoes with my family in the field when we saw smoke coming out from the plane. The smoke was coming from the left engine of the plane and soon there was a sound of the blast after which it caught fire,” said Yogesh Khurase.

Khurase said the he saw the pilots ejecting 15 seconds before the crash.
Around 10, 000 people from neighbouring eight villages reached the crash site as the news spread. Over 100 police personnel were deployed and around two km of the area was cordoned of for investigation purposes.

“Thirty police officials were sent initially. However, the crowd gathered and more teams were called to control the crowd. There were 25 senior officials to ensure no law and order situation arouse,” said deputy superintendent of police, Atul Zende.
Zende said the cops would be deployed until all the necessary evidence and debris is cleared from the crash site.

Sub Divisional Magistrate (SDM), Mahesh Patil, said, “The emergency teams reached within 15 minutes of the crash. All necessary precautions have been taken to protect the debris.”

Patil said it was challenging for the administration to reach the spot located in the interior part. “The crash took place about five km on the interior side of the highway. The roads were narrow and thousands of people gathered making it difficult to address the situation,” he added.

Patil said a high voltage line is located above the place of impact but no serious damage was observed. The electricity supply was immediately cut-off to prevent untoward incident.

“Orders have also been given to officials to assess the crop loss in the crash,” Patil said.

The senior HAL, Air Force and other concerned authorities visited the crash site to retrieve the black box but refused to comment further.

HAL in Ozar about 30 km from Nashik is the only place in India which manufactures, repairs and overhauls Sukhoi-30MKI fighter jets in India.