The December 8 helicopter crash in which India’s first chief of defence staff (CDS) General Bipin Rawat was killed along with 13 others was most likely a controlled flight into terrain (CFIT) accident with cloudy weather a contributory factor, people familiar with the matter said on Wednesday, after the Indian Air Force (IAF) made a detailed presentation to defence minister Rajnath Singh on the inquiry report into the Mi-17V5 accident.
In aviation parlance, CFIT refers to the accidental collision with terrain of an airworthy aircraft under the flight crew’s full control. In CFIT accidents, the pilot or crew is unaware of the looming danger until it is too late, according to the US Federal Aviation Administration. The most common causes of it are bad weather, human error, or a problem with navigation equipment. And most of these accidents happen during take off or landing.
A major factor leading to such accidents is the loss of situational awareness, FAA says.
The Russian-origin helicopter, considered extremely safe and reliable, was fully serviceable when it crashed near Coonoor, said one of the officials who cited above. The low-flying helicopter flew into a cloud cover seconds before it went down in a fireball, barely seven minutes before it was scheduled to land in Wellington.
“It was most likely a CFIT accident. The aircraft was fully serviceable. There is no evidence of technical failure,” said a second official.
There was no official word from IAF on what led to the accident. Air Marshal Manavendra Singh, who headed the inquiry into the crash, made the presentation to the defence minister in the presence of IAF chief Air Chief Marshal Vivek Ram Chaudhari.
The helicopter took off from the Sulur air base at 11.48am and was scheduled to land at the helipad at the Wellington golf course at 12.15pm. The air traffic control at Sulur, however, lost contact with the helicopter at 12.08 pm, 20 minutes after it took off.
IAF is now expected to review protocols governing flights ferrying important people. The review will be based on the findings of the court of inquiry into the crash, the IAF chief said last month.
Rawat was on a visit to the Defence Services Staff College (DSSC) at Wellington to deliver a talk when the Mi-17V5 crashed.
Those killed in the crash included the CDS’s wife Madhulika Raje Singh Rawat, his defence assistant Brigadier LS Lidder, Lieutenant Colonel Harjinder Singh, Wing Commander Prithvi Singh Chauhan, the pilot of the Mi-17V5, Squadron Leader Kuldeep Singh, the co-pilot, Junior Warrant Officer Rana Pratap Das, Junior Warrant Officer Arakkal Pradeep, Havildar Satpal Rai, Naik Gursewak Singh, Naik Jitendra Kumar, Lance Naik Vivek Kumar and Lance Naik B Sai Teja.
The sole survivor of the crash, Group Captain Varun Singh, breathed his last on December 15 after putting up a week-long fight .
Developed by Russian Helicopters, the Mi-17V5 is designed to carry personnel, cargo and equipment. The Mi-17V5 can carry a load of around four tonne in a full cargo role. It can also insert assault forces behind the enemy lines, a role frequently demonstrated by the IAF during military exercises.
The helicopter is equipped with modern avionics, a self-defence system and other advanced features that enhance its survivability. The Mi-17V5, which has an armoured cockpit, can be fitted with rockets, cannons and small arms for carrying out offensive roles. It has a service ceiling of 6,000 metre, top speed of 250 kmph and a maximum range of around 1,180km with additional fuel tanks.
CDS Rawat chopper crash a CFIT accident, say officials