Army loses two pilots in Nashik chopper crash (Second lead)

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

NASHIK/NEW DELHI - The Indian Army Wednesday lost two of its experienced pilots when their helicopter crashed into a residential area in Maharashtra’s Nashik city.

The pilots, Major Atul Garje and Major P. Bhanu Chander, were killed on the spot when the Cheetah helicopter they were flying crashed in Nashik’s Jai Bhavani Nagar around 9 a.m., local police and army officers in New Delhi said.

Garje was from Satara in Maharashtra and Chander from Visakhapatnam in Andhra Pradesh. The two were qualified flying instructor.

The accident took place within 15 minutes of the helicopter taking off from an army helicopter training school in Nashik. But no civilian casualties were reported as the pilots had diverted the chopper away from a private bungalow onto a shed nearby within the compound.

The pilots were taking the Cheetah helicopter to Goa on their onward flight to Bangalore to join the AeroIndia show that is to begin Feb 9. They were to fly along with air force pilots of foreign countries at the air show as part of an exercise named ‘Vayu Kaushal’.

The pilots and the helicopter belonged to an army aviation unit in Jodhpur and they had reached Nashik only Tuesday on their way to Bangalore, army officers said.

The army has ordered a probe into the cause of the accident. Preliminary investigations suggested that the chopper’s rotors developed a snag within minutes of take-off.

Top district officials, including Nashik MP Sameer Bhujbal, and defence officials from the nearby Deolali Camp rushed to the crash site, which is now out of bounds to facilitate the probe by defence authorities and the police.

In 2010, the Indian armed forces suffered over a dozen air accidents, including four army Cheetah crashes at Nagrota and Kalsi in Jammu and Kashmir, Sikkim and Dimapur in the northeast. The army lost three personnel in the Dimapur crash.

An Indian Air Force’s Cheetah helicopter too had crash-landed in the Siachen glacier in the second week of November, but without any casualties.

In the last three years, a total of 60 aircraft, including MiG-21 and helicopters, have crashed, killing 43 personnel of the services and five civilians.

will not be displayed