Two fighter jets of the Indian Air Force (IAF) -- Mirage 2000 and Sukhoi Su-30, reportedly collided in the sky near Morena in Madhya Pradesh while carrying out an air bombing exercise, leading to the crash of both the aircraft.
While two pilots of Sukhoi Su-30 managed to eject, the pilot flying Mirage 2000 lost his life after sustaining serious injuries.
The deceased pilot has been identified as Wing Commander Hanumanth Rao Sarathi (flying the Mirage 2000). Two other pilots (flying Sukhoi Su-30) were later flown by an IAF helicopter for medical treatment in Gwalior.
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In its statement, the IAF said that it has set up a "Court of Inquiry which will establish whether there was a mid-air collision or not" between the two fighter jets.
The officials also confirmed that while the two IAF fighter aircraft crashed in Manpur village of Pahargarh forest area in Morena district of Madhya Pradesh's Gwalior-Chambal region, the major portion of the Sukhoi aircraft was strewn in the neighbouring Pingora area at Bharatpur district in Rajasthan.
According to Morena district collector Ankit Asthana, both jets reportedly collided in Morena district's territory but since the ejection of the pilots happened from the Sukhoi aircraft at very high altitude, both the pilots landed safely in Morena district, while the aircraft glided into the jungles of Bharatpur district of Rajasthan.
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The IAF in an official communication later said an inquiry has been ordered to determine the cause of the accident of the two jets, which had taken off on Saturday morning from the IAF's Maharajpura airbase in Gwalior district of Madhya Pradesh on a routine operational flying training mission.
"Two fighter aircraft of the IAF were involved in an accident near Gwalior. The aircraft were on routine operational flying training missions. One of the three pilots involved sustained fatal injuries. An inquiry has been ordered to determine the cause of the accident. Both Su-30MKI pilots are safe," IAF said in an official statement.
Sources in Morena district administration told IANS that a team of forensic experts from the IAF had arrived at the spot, which is around 90 km from Morena district headquarters, and started a probe on the site.
Shocked over the death of the IAF pilot, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh tweeted: "Deeply anguished by the loss of brave air warrior, Wg Cdr Hanumanth Rao Sarathi, who suffered fatal injuries during an accident near Gwalior. My deepest condolences to his bereaved family. We stand by his family in this difficult hour."
The Morena police received phone calls from villagers in the Kailaras area at around 10.15 am, about the rear portion of an aircraft catching fire following a loud noise in the air, after which the police in the entire area were alerted about the possibility of a crash.
Shailendra Shakya, sarpanch of the village where the incident occurred, told IANS: "People were shocked to hear loud noise and smoke emanating from something that fell on the ground which later turned out to be the rear portion of one of the aircraft. While one of the planes which had caught fire in the rear portion was seen plunging into the Pahargarh forests, the other aircraft was seen gliding towards the forest area of adjoining Rajasthan. Seeing the flashes of fire in the aircraft which was plunging down into Pahargarh forests, many villagers started running in that direction. We also saw two pilots coming down in parachutes. We spotted them on the ground in a safe condition 15-20 minutes later."