Two pilots die as navy plane crashes during aerobatics

Hyderabad, March 3 (IANS) An Indian Navy trainer aircraft crashed into a two-storied building in a densely populated area during an air show here Wednesday, killing the pilot and his co-pilot and injuring four civilians on the ground. It was a miracle that a major disaster was averted.

Commander S.K. Maurya, 39, and Lt Commander Rahul Nair, 34, died when their HJT-16 Kiran Mk II trainer crashed shortly before noon in the thickly populated Bowenpally locality near the old Begumpet Airport in the city’s heart.

The building immediately went up in flames as hundreds of litres of aviation fuel caught fire. Miraculously, none of its occupants were killed in what could have turned into a catastrophe.

The charred bodies of both the pilot and co-pilot were removed by defence personnel. Stunned residents said one of the pilots ejected from the plane that was hurtling down but could not open up the parachute.

Thousands of people were enjoying the air show after the inaugural of India Aviation 2010, an international aviation exhibition and conference, when disaster struck.

The plane — one of four from the navy’s aerobatics team — was unable to pull up from a dive. It went into a spiral when the planes were breaking away from the formation and going in different directions.

The aircraft hit a mobile telephone tower on top of the building and exploded. A large part of the aircraft smashed into the house, destroying it. Huge debris fell onto a parked car down below, crushing it.

Among whose who watched the crash in horror were Civil Aviation Minister Praful Patel, who said the exhibition would continue, Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister K. Rosaiah and the US ambassador, Timothy J. Roemer.

‘What began as such a promising day has sadly ended so tragically,’ the US envoy said in a statement.

Indian Navy Chief Admiral Nirmal Verma announced the death of the pilots.

‘The pilots are no more. It was during the last phase of the (aerobatics) display that the aircraft went out of control. What exactly went wrong, we will have to find out,’ he said in Bhopal.

In New Delhi, a navy official said co-pilot Nair ejected but his parachute could not be fully deployed because of the low height. The chief pilot went down with the plane.

The dead men were part of the Indian Naval formation aerobatic team Sagar Pawan (Sea Breeze) that was set up in 2003. Sagar Pawan is one of the two Naval aerobatics teams in the world, the other being the Blue Angels of US Navy. It has taken part in over 100 air shows.

At least 40 aircraft of national and international companies were parked at the Begumpet airport for static display as part of a five-day event.

‘The aircraft which was diving had started turning upside down. I initially thought it to be a part of a manoeuvre but a few second later it crashed,’ said an eyewitness.

Said N. Ashok, who was in his house at the time: ‘I heard a loud noise and rushed out to see flames.’

The building and nearby houses were evacuated as the crash had weakened the structure. Police struggled to control the thousands who rushed to the spot.

It was the second such disaster in Hyderabad in less than two years. In September 2008, a flying instructor and a trainee pilot died when a small aircraft crashed into a residential area.

Commercial operations at Begumpet were shifted two years ago to the new international airport at Shamshabad, 30 km from the city. But the airport is still in use by the defence services and for non-commercial operations like VIP flights.

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