Father of dead Army pilot writes to President seeking action against authorities for ‘violation’ of safety norms

The father of the pilot has sought the President’s intervention followed by an immediate corrective action to save the lives of many Army pilots in the future.

The father of an Army pilot who lost his son in a helicopter crash near Pathankot has written a letter to President Ram Nath Kovind seeking fixing of accountability for the death of his son and that of the co-pilot. Notably, his son’s body was found two and a half months after the mishap from the Ranjit Sagar Dam.

Harish Joshi blamed lapses on the part of Army authorities for the death of his son, Capt Jayant Joshi. Jayant Joshi and Lt Col AS Batth’s helicopter had crashed during a routine sortie on August 3. Both pilots belonged to the 254 Army Aviation Squadron.

Jayant was a pilot of Rudra Weapon System Integrated (WSI) attack helicopter and he was flying a mission sortie, practising target acquisition and deployment of integrated weapons. It was during this sortie that his helicopter crashed in the Ranjit Sagar Dam, Jammu and Kashmir. Both the pilots drowned in deep waters.

“The crash has exposed many glaring gaps in the safety processes being followed in Army Aviation. It has also apparently revealed an attitude of apathy and disregard in the matter of pilot safety and training needs…” the letter read.

The father of the pilot has sought the President’s intervention followed by an immediate corrective action to save the lives of many Army pilots in the future.

“Rudra WSI, an Advanced Light Helicopter is currently the mainstay attack helicopter of the Indian Army. It is meant to fly low to avoid detection and fire by the enemy. It is meant to fly over ground. My question is that if the Rudra was not meant to be flown over water, then why were the helicopters of the squadron being routinely sent to fly over a vast expanse of water that was 25 kms long and 8 kms wide? This information on the expanse of water was often put out in the public domain by the Army’s own publicity wing,” the letter added.

Harish Joshi goes on to add that he was told that it was the only area available for low flying as it was free from obstacles. “If that is the case, did anyone responsible for running the affairs of Army Aviation… realise the basic survival training needs of the men and provide them with the necessary safety gear before sending them flying over water? Were they not aware of these needs? Did they not know that their pilots were risking lives by flying over a vast water body every day? They did know but chose to ignore and disregard these critical requirements,” he said.

The father said that flying over water requires specialised training about depth perception, which is different from flying over land, owing to reflection from water surface. If not trained and while flying over water, a minute miscalculation about the depth on the part of pilots may cause them to hit the water and crash, he added.

“I am told that as per cockpit voice recorder/flight data recorder (CVR/FDR) analysed by the court of inquiry team, flying very low and deeply engrossed in acquiring the target, and aligning it on to the integrated weapons, both the pilots did not realise that they were going to hit the water. In plain words, they missed the depth perception and crashed… In my opinion, since they were not trained for depth perception, the crash was inevitable,” the letter claimed.

Harish Joshi said that it was evident that lack of training coupled with an absence of basic safety gear for flying over water was responsible for the deaths.

“Unfortunately, all Army pilots fly in the same situation. Those flying over water routinely are trained for underwater escape and survival in case of a crash. Navy pilots are provided this training. These pilots are also provided with life-saving jackets so that they float and are rescued in case of a crash over water. My son crashed at a speed of 170 kmph as per CVR/FDR finding. Despite this high velocity crash and impact… my son was able to de-harness himself from his seat as he crashed. His seat belt was found to be properly opened when the aircraft wreckage was recovered. Made of composite material, the aircraft cabin had disintegrated into pieces… Clearly, my son was free from any obstacle to float. The same was the case with the other pilot,” he said.

Harish Joshi said had a basic life-saving gear in the form of a life jacket been provided to his son, he would have floated on the water surface and could have been rescued to the nearest medical facility by the locals and the rescue boats of the dam authorities that had reached the crash site within 15 minutes of the crash. “Deprived of a life jacket, he was killed and went into the waters. The other pilot also met the same fate. Chances of their survival were reduced… Due to this criminal negligence, his body could be retrieved only after a 76-day long search,” he said.

Joshi demanded if the Army Aviation can offer any explanation for the “criminal disregard” to pilot safety. “None of the pilots of my son’s squadron has undergone underwater escape and survival training, I am told. A life jacket is not provided to them as an essential life-saving gear. In such a circumstance, they would be left to their fate, with the risk of India losing young defence personnel to such negligence,” he said.

Joshi said in the letter to the President that the post-mortem report of his son does not give any specific cause behind his death but helicopter crash injury leading to poly-trauma. “There is no mention if my son received any injury to his brain and spine. His femur bone was found to be fractured. Drowned in the water for 76 days, most of his vital organs were found to be partially decomposed.

“I saw my son before the post mortem on his body. He was completely intact and his body bore no visible mark of injury. He was bloated in the stomach and his face swollen due to long exposure to water.

“I have consulted many doctors, some of them being in the field of forensic medicine. According to them, the post-mortem report does not show any immediate life-threatening injury which would have caused his death. They are also of the opinion that my son did not die instantly after the crash. However, adverse circumstances could have led to his death, notable among these include the fractured femur of thigh (femur) bone making my son immobile, unconsciousness due to crash impact… and hypothermia caused by exposure to cold water. A timely rescue and medical help could have still saved his life, they conclude.

I am sure my son would have been alive today.”

Harish Joshi has requested the President to ensure that the Army makes it mandatory for all Army pilots to undergo underwater survival training and also equip them with essential life-saving gear, and ensure life-saving skill up-gradation through periodic training modules. Their flying machines should also be made float worthy.

He has also asked for the President’s intervention to fix accountability for the death of his son and the other pilot, and sought commensurate action against those responsible for violation of safety norms.

“I have lost my brave soldier son at the prime of his youth all because of reasons cited above. Neither the Indian Army nor the Nation can compensate for his loss. An intervention by you, the Supreme Commander, will save other pilots from a similar fate,” the letter said.

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