Thursday, March 8, 2007

Here's Swapnil's cousin describing the incident.

This is not the "official" version. That can only come from the commission of inquiry. The point to note however is that the type-77 variant should have been retired a long time ago!

Readerspeak: One more for RDB files

An Indian Air Force MiG-21 fighter jet crashed over West Bengal on Thursday, killing the pilot - Squadron Leader Swapnil Sakar Pandey. Pandey's cousin Vaibhav Vishal wrote in to

On Thursday, sometime during lunch, I saw the news ticker talking about some MiG-21 crash near Kurseong in West Bengal.

The pilot was feared killed, it said. "Yet another one for the RDB case files!", I thought to myself, feeling good about my astute social commentary skills, especially the wise 'RDB case files' bit, and continued digging my teeth into my lunch box.

The parathas were awesome.

At around 5:30 pm, my sister gave me a call. The aircraft was being piloted by Squadron Leader Swapnil Sakar Pandey. And he was killed, indeed.

I knew the guy as Golu. He was my brother. My first cousin. My aunt's only son.

Two years younger than me, Golu always always always wanted to be a fighter pilot with the Indian Air Force. He wanted to serve the country. He wanted to fight the enemy.

He wanted to fly those massive aircraft. I would always think hard why a multi-dimensional guy like him - somebody who could play six musical instruments and sing like a true blue rockstar; and paint, photograph and write with equal ease - would want to get into such a uni-dimensional job.

Fly, fly, fly, and then some more. Golu thought otherwise. And he clearly knew what he wanted. So a fighter pilot he did become the day he could.

Swapnil Sakar. Dream Fulfilled.

Till March 1, 2007. It was supposed to be a regular practice flight. Apparently, the plane developed a snag, as is now becoming a norm with the MiG-21s, immediately after the take off, with its tail catching fire.

Our man could have ejected himself and saved his life, but the aircraft would have then crash-landed in a populated area. In order to save all those lives, Squadron Leader Pandey maneuvered the machine towards the forest area, and while he did try to eject himself post that, evidently, it was too late.

He saved the lives of unknown people when he could have saved his own. He could have, in the process, also saved the lives of his parents, his wife of one year, his three sisters and all of us from his extended family.

But he chose to save people he didn't know.

I don't want to blame the Indian Air Force for continuing to fly the MiG-21s, despite so many young men losing their lives. I don't want to blame the Chief of Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal SP Tyagi for his rather cold and callous statement with reference to my aunt: "She understands that there are risks involved in military aviation. Sometimes things don't work out. I am sorry that she has lost her kid," I don't want to blame the Air Force authorities for not finding the black box of the aircraft yet, or at least not telling the world about it. I don't want to blame anybody for killing my brother.

I'm glad he is gone.

Despite my crafty attempts at social commentaries, I really am at a loss to understand how this whole thing works.

RDB propagates killing the ones who are responsible for killing our young men. I don't want that. That is a route for the revolutionaries. And I really don't know how it helps, anyways.

For me, the solace lies in knowing that we are better off without such nice human beings. We deserve a world sans good people.

There is no place for the likes of Golu amongst us. We don't deserve such unselfish, sensitive men. We don't want such saviours. We don't want any patriots.

We want regular people around us who don't care. Because we don't care.

Call it pessimism. Call it giving up. Call it acceptance. The news never made it to the headlines. Yet another one, right! While the kid killed himself to save others, I continued biting into my parathas, didn't I? So should you.

Forward this note to people you know, if you can. If this can lead to even an iota of movement anywhere - amongst people like us or the babus, the ministers, the Forces OR within me, or you - Squadron Leader Pandey's last flight may just achieve the heights it could not.

Golu is dead. Now please help me kill my cynicism, guys.

(Vaibhav Vishal is Director, Program Development with MTV Networks India Pvt. Ltd.)

1 comment:

Vikas Sharma said...

A few quotes first:

1. "...IAF’s fighter fleet is in danger of block obsolesce...The Type 66, Type 77 and Type 96 MiG-21s are now well past their prime. Indeed these types were due to be withdrawn over a decade ago.

...Over the last decade a proliferation of fourth generation fighter types in the east have rendered the resident Type-77 squadrons obsolete"

Source: ; Originally printed in: ORF Strategic Trends Volume II Issue 48 December 6, 2004 (by retired air marshal BK Pandey, who was Former C-in-C, Training Command, Indian Air Force)

2. "...Air Commodore Chandramouli in Bagdogra airbase said on phone that the jet took off for a practice flight at around 1.00 pm with Squadron Leader Pandey piloting it.

It broke into pieces in flight between Norbong tea estate and Shibkhola in Kurseong sub-division immediately afterwards and crashed, Chandramouli said.

The aircraft's wreckage was spread over the slopes of hills in the area, he said..."

Source: Times of India (

How the hell did the plane break-up into pieces, that too mid flight!! The Govt. just has to get rid of the rotten junk.

How much longer will we keep losing our finest officers because of lack of foresight by the Govt. & the IAF??

I agree that there is some level of inherent risk in flying and am sure that all our pilots are prepared to take that 'normal level of risk' but surely, flying the outdated junk is beyond any comprehensible levels. I won't be surprised if our pilots are actually forced by the 'babus' to fly the rusting thrash AKA 'Flying Coffins'.

All our babus (ministers, PM & presidents) should be made to ride the MIG-21s as the sole mode of their air transport.

Both the Govt. & the IAF should be tried for murdering our elite officers flying the MIG-21 fighters. If not the Govt., then surely we (the citizens) should be tried for having voted for the filthy and money hungry politicians who couldn't care less of our brave young pilots.

I'm sure (give it a few weeks) & we'll have the Govt. & IAF soon issuing joint statements that it was 'pilot error' or another story of likes of that 'vulture' that appears out of nowhere to pick exclusively on MIGs !!