Crashed MiG’s one engine found, no trace of pilot

Shimla/New Delhi, Oct 27 (IANS) Indian Air Force (IAF) personnel have recovered one engine of the MiG-29 fighter plane that crashed off a snow-bound peak of Himachal Pradesh Oct 18, but there is no trace of the pilot, officials said Thursday.

IAF personnel said they recovered one engine of the crashed MiG-29 from a snow-bound Himalayan peak off Lahaul Valley. But there is no word yet from the air force about Squadron Leader D.S. Tomar, who piloted the ill-fated combat jet.

IAF sources told India Strategic defence magazine (www.indiastrategic.in) that the engine was found at an altitude of nearly 5,000 metres (18,000 feet) buried under snow. It was located with burn marks on the snow surface.

‘More burnt pieces were recovered on the Gangstang glacier in the Chokhang hills during ground combing. Some were recovered Wednesday and some Thursday,’ Lahaul and Spiti Deputy Commissioner Rajeev Shankar told IANS over phone.

India Strategic reported that more than 100 personnel from the IAF, the Indian Army, Ladakh Scouts and sherpas (local mountain workers) were conducting day and night search operations in snow peaks sloping at 70-80 degrees in the avalanche-prone area.

It appeared that the aircraft hit one of the peaks literally head on at a speed of around 900 km and disintegrated and its fragments were scatterd on either side of a ridge, said IAF sources.

There was no sign of the pilot, whose vest had an ELT (emergency locater transmitter). There was no indication or communication of any problem from him and there has been no signal from the ELT unit, sources said.

Western Air Command chief, Air Marshal D.C. Kumaria, said in a statement that ‘the search would continue till we reach to the bottom of the case and arrive at definite conclusions’.

The MiG-29 was on a night mission after taking off from Adampur for Jalandhar in Punjab.

The Gangstang glacier, on which burnt pieces of the plane were recovered, is situated at the western border of the Lahaul region at an altitude of about 5,480 metres streaming into Shahsha nullah which joins the Chandrabhaga river.

Some villagers of Thirot, 40 km from Keylong town, last week spotted some burnt pieces of the aircraft in the Chokhang hills.

The villagers brought three parts and the IAF matched the wreckage with the ill-fated MiG-29.

‘The pieces of the wreckage in both the cases were recovered very near to each other. Prima facie, it seems that the main parts of the crashed aircraft are also nearby,’ Shankar said.

The IAF statement said Group Captain P.K. Sharma, coordinating the search for the missing aircraft and pilot, confirmed locating the crash site above Chokhang village at 15,000 feet.

Sharma said that several components of the aircraft have been recovered after digging under the snow and rubble. These are being brought down to base camp for proper identification.

‘The searchers have set up a base camp on the hilltop of Chokhang from where they are trekking adjoining hills,’ said Deputy Superintendent of Police Khajana Ram.

He said police and J&K Rifles were providing logistic support to the trekkers.

The IAF had deployed its front-line aircraft like SU-30, Jaguar, AN-32 and Cheetah and Chetak helicopters besides Remotely Piloted Aircraft (RPA) to comb the Himalayan terrain.

An IAF official, associated with the search operation, said the focus was now primarily on ground search as aerial reconnaissance was not so successful in the mountainous terrain where the cliffs were vertical and gorges narrow.

‘Moreover, the recent snowfall in the hills has blanketed the entire area,’ he added.

The IAF said the task force commander routinely undertook aerial reconnaissance by helicopter to guide the teams of trekkers to precise locations.

‘A total of 149 sorties have been flown as part of the search and rescue effort till Oct 25,’ the IAF said.