Bikaner/New Delhi: The civilian death toll in Monday morning’s MiG-21 fighter crash in Rajasthan’s Hanumangarh district has reached three. The Indian Air Force’s Russian-origin vintage warplane, which is still in service, crashed on a house at Bahlolnagar village in Hanumangarh after taking off for a routine sortie from the Suratgarh Air Force station, which is at an aerial distance of around 30 kilometres from the crash site.
The pilot ejected safely. The IAF said he sustained minor injuries for which he is undergoing treatment. A court of inquiry has been initiated to probe the exact cause of the crash.
In a statement, the Air Force said: “A MiG-21 fighter aircraft of the IAF crashed today morning at about 0945 hours (9.45am). The aircraft had got airborne for a routine operational training sortie from the Air Force station at Suratgarh. Soon thereafter, the pilot experienced an onboard emergency, following which he attempted to recover the aircraft as per existing procedures. Having failed to do so, he initiated an ejection, sustaining minor injuries in the process. The pilot was recovered from about 25 kilometres northeast of the Suratgarh base.”
The fighter developed a technical snag and crashed on a house severely injuring two women and a man. According to reports, one woman died soon after and the other two succumbed to their injuries while being treated in a nearby hospital.
Video of the crash site of the IAF MiG-21 fighter near Suratgarh during a routine training sortie on Monday morning. The crash killed two women and a man on the ground while the pilot ejected safely.— India Sentinels (@indiasentinels) May 8, 2023
Read full report and history of MiG-21 crashes here: https://t.co/ap191vdNOD pic.twitter.com/uUVqQVDW6F
The Air Force said: “The aircraft wreckage fell on a house in Bahlolnagar in Hanumangarh district, unfortunately leading to the loss of three lives. The IAF regrets the loss of lives and offers its deepest condolences to the bereaved families. A court of inquiry has been constituted to ascertain the cause of the accident.”
Briefing the media on the accident, the Bikaner inspector general of police, Om Prakash, said the pilot tried his best to avert human casualties, and due to his efforts, the plane crashed on the outskirts of the village minimizing the damage on the ground. He also said “several” people on the ground were injured in the crash. Om Prakash further said a crowd of over 2,000 people had gathered at the crash site and the local administration had to make an effort to control it.
MiG-21 and its history of crashes
The MiG-21, a fighter plane which the erstwhile Soviet Union developed in the 1950s, has been plagued with crashes resulting in fatalities through the decades. According to available data, the Indian Air Force, which has been operating the fighter since 1963-64, has seen around 400 MiG-21 crashes, which resulted in the deaths of over 200 pilots and several dozen civilians on the ground.
It may be noted that the crash figure is almost half of the 870 MiG-21s that IAF procured in the last 60 years.
The fighter’s high crash rate gained so much notoriety in the country that it was dubbed as “Flying Coffin” by some sections of the population.
Although the Air Force operated with only upgraded newer MiG-21s in the recent years having phased out the older ones, the crash rate of the fighter remained high. Around a dozen MiG-21 have crashed in the last five years alone.
According to available data, there are currently 50 MiG-21s in service with the IAF. They are slated to be phased out by 2025. The delay in phasing out these fighters is attributed to the abysmally slow rate of inducting newer fighters in the IAF’s rapidly declining inventory of warplanes. Already, the service is operating with more than 12 squadrons less than its authorized strength of 42 squadrons.
It is notable that the service reached its maximum number of squadrons at 39.5 three decades ago, in the early 1990s.
Note: The story has been updated to include tweets with videos of the crash.