The father of an Army Aviation pilot who died in a crash in Jammu and Kashmir last year has written to President Ram Nath Kovind, requesting him to make it mandatory for all army pilots to undergo underwater survival training and to equip them with essential life-saving gears.
Harish Chander Joshi’s son Capt Jayant Joshi of 254 Squadron of Army Aviation had died in a fatal crash of his helicopter over Ranjit Sagar Dam in Jammu and Kashmir on August 3, 2021 while on a mission sortie.
A pilot of Rudra Weapon System Integrated (WSI) attack helicopter of Army Aviation, Jayant Joshi along with Lt. Col. A S Batth, a test pilot and an aviation instructor, were practising target acquisition and deployment of integrated weapons on the 200-square kilometre dam when the crash took place.
”The crash has exposed many glaring gaps in the safety processes being followed in Army Aviation. It has also apparently revealed an attitude of apathy and disregard in the matter of pilot safety and training needs among those responsible for the affairs of Army Aviation,” Jayant Joshi’s father Harish Chander Joshi wrote in his letter to the President.
The President’s secretariat has forwarded the complaint to the Defence Secretary, according to a communication received by Joshi.
He questioned whether the Rudra helicopter is meant to fly low to avoid detection and fire by the enemy and fly over ground. Why was it being flown over water? ”My question is that if the Rudra was not meant to be flown over water, then why were the helicopters of the squadron being routinely sent to fly over a vast expanse of water that was 25 km long and 8 km wide? This information on the expanse of water was often put out in the public domain by the army’s own publicity wing,” he said.
Joshi said he was told that it was the only area available for low flying as it was free from obstacles.
”If that be the case, did anyone responsible for running the affairs of Army Aviation, from top to down the squadron command level, realise the basic survival training needs of the men and provide them with the necessary safety gears before sending them for flying over water? ”Were they not aware of these needs? Did they not know that their pilots were risking lives by flying over a vast water body every day? They did know but chose to ignore and disregard these critical requirements,” he said.
Joshi said flying over water as a routine requires specialised training about depth perception which is different from flying over land due to reflection from water surface.
”If not trained and while over water, a minute miscalculation about the depth on the part of pilots may cause them to hit the water and crash,” he said.
He was told that the court of inquiry found that the team, flying very low and deeply engrossed in acquiring the target, and aligning it on to the integrated weapons, both the pilots did not realise that they were going to hit the water.
In plain words, they missed the depth perception and crashed to die, he said.
”In my opinion, since they were not trained for depth perception, the crash was inevitable. This is one version of circumstances and reasons leading to the crash. There are many eyewitness accounts and CCTV footage and all these present a different story,” he said.
He said lack of training as well as lack of basic safety gears for flying over water are perhaps to be blamed for this crash.
”Unfortunately, all army pilots fly in the same situation. Those flying over water routinely are trained for underwater escape and survival in case of a crash. Navy pilots are provided this training. These pilots are also provided with life-saving jackets so that they float and are rescued in case of a crash over water,” he said.
Joshi said that had a basic life-saving gear in the form of a life jacket been provided to his son, he would have floated on the water surface and could have been rescued to the nearest medical facility by the locals and the rescue boats of the dam authorities that had reached the crash site within 15 minutes of the crash.
”Deprived of a life jacket, he was killed and went into the waters. The other pilot also met the same fate. Chances of their survival were reduced to zero due to the criminal negligence to pilot safety and survival. Due to this criminal negligence, his body could be retrieved only after a 76-day-long search,” he wrote.
Joshi requested the President to make it mandatory for all army pilots to undergo underwater survival training and also equip them with the essential life-saving gears, and ensure life-saving skill up-gradation through periodic training modules. Their flying machines should also be made float worthy.
Joshi also asked the President to fix accountability for the death of his son and the other pilot and those responsible for violation of safety norms, apathy and complete disregard to pilot safety and survival training be brought to book and a commensurate action be taken against them.