A MiG-29K fighter jet of the Indian Navy crashed near the Verna industrial estate, on the Verna plateau, shortly after it took off on a routine training sortie from the naval air base at Dabolim, INS Hansa, on Saturday morning.
The pilots – Captain M Sheokhand and Lieutenant Commander Deepak Yadav – managed to eject safely a few seconds prior to the crash. The Navy has instituted an inquiry into the crash. The Verna police have registered a case of accident.
According to naval sources, the incident occurred around 11.45 am when the plane, a trainer version of the fighter jet, was hit by a flock of birds. The collision led to a fire in the right engine and the left engine failing. The pilots showed presence of mind in steering the damaged plane away from the populated areas thus averting a major tragedy. The plane crashed on the Verna plateau and no casualties were reported.
“The pilots observed the left engine had flamed out and the right engine had caught fire. Attempts to recover the aircraft were unsuccessful due to damage and low height. The pilot with his presence of mind pointed the aircraft away from populated areas and both pilots ejected safely,” said Navy statement.
The pilots landed with the help of parachutes and were rushed to the Navy’s INHS Jeevanto Hospital, based at INS Gomantak, and administered the necessary treatment. As the pilots attempted to land on the ground, their parachutes got entangled in trees resulting in the pilots sustaining injuries. However, locals from the Sodovi ward of Verna rushed to help them.
“As the parachute of one pilot got entangled in a teakwood tree, he hurt his hand. The second pilot managed to land safely some 50 metres away. However, he sustained a leg injury. Both of them were brought inside my house where they were provided first aid. After an hour, they were taken in a police car to the Navy hospital. There was a huge crowd of people inside and outside my house. Local legislator Wilfred D’Sa was also present to assist them,” said Antonetta Rodrigues in whose house the pilots were initially provided treatment. Rodrigues said, “The pilots informed their senior officials about the mishap and soon a helicopter was seen attempting to land near our house.”
Another resident Pascoal Lobo said, “The parachute of the second pilot got entangled in a coconut tree. The pilot, however, managed to get onto the ground. Navy officials removed and took away the first parachute around 1.15 pm and later the second one was taken away at 3.15 pm.”
Parts of the aircraft were scattered over a radius of one kilometre from the crash site. Luckily, the parts did not hit any villager living in the vicinity. A kitchen of a house located in the vicinity was damaged after some scattered pieces of the crashed aircraft fell on the house.
The Navy’s search and rescue team involving technical personnel, and fire and emergency services responded immediately to the air crash and cordoned off the area. The Navy officials inspected every part of the crashed aircraft.
The state’s fire tenders attached to the Verna, Ponda and Margao fire stations were rushed to the site of the crash. The Verna police and disaster management squad also responded immediately. “In order to prevent any radiation in the area, we cordoned off the area for the safety of people,” said Verna fire official Damodar Zambaulikar.
Villagers from Verna, Nagoa, Loutolim and other surrounding areas rushed to the site to have a glimpse of the crashed aircraft.
“I was at the Nuvem Carmel College. I saw an aircraft on fire and guessed that something was going to happen. Minutes later, I saw two pilots attempting to land on the ground with the help of parachutes,” said Verna police inspector Harish Madkaikar.
Local legislator Wilfred D’Sa said, “Two youth came to Nuvem and told me about an aircraft that was flying very low and that it could cause an accident. Within three minutes, we saw flames at Sodovi in Verna where a house was partially burnt. Subsequently two pilots landed. We assisted them and they were soon taken to hospital.’’
Loutolim sarpanch Xavier Fernandes said the people of Loutolim area were miraculously saved.
District Collector, South, Ajit Roy, in his press note, appreciated the act of the two pilots. “Although the jet was out of control, the pilot took precautionary measures to guide it away from residential areas,” he said.