General Bipin Rawat’s chopper crash caused by pilots’ misjudgement: Court of Inquiry - Broadsword by Ajai Shukla - Strategy. Economics. Defence.

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Friday 14 January 2022

General Bipin Rawat’s chopper crash caused by pilots’ misjudgement: Court of Inquiry

“Spatial disorientation” of pilots led to helicopter impacting with the ground


By Ajai Shukla

Business Standard, 14th Jan 22


A tri-service Court of Inquiry has submitted its preliminary findings into the Mi-17 V5 helicopter crash that killed the chief of defence staff, General Bipin Rawat and 12 others on December 8.


According to a Ministry of Defence (MoD) press statement on Friday, “The inquiry team analysed the Flight Data Recorder (FDR) and Cockpit Voice Recorder (CVR), besides questioning all available witnesses to determine the most probable cause of the accident.”


“The Court of Inquiry has ruled out mechanical failure, sabotage or negligence as a cause of the accident. The accident was a result of entry into clouds due to unexpected change in weather conditions in the valley. This led to spatial disorientation of the pilot resulting in Controlled Flight into Terrain,” said the Court of Inquiry.


“Controlled Flight into Terrain”, or CFIT, is the bleak term used to describe an aircraft impacting the ground while the pilot(s) are in full control of the machine.


Spatial disorientation is the inability of a pilot to correctly interpret an aircraft’s attitude, altitude or airspeed in relation to the earth or other points of reference. It is most critical at night, or in poor weather, when there is no visible horizon, since vision is the dominant sense for orientation.


For example, a pilot flying over snow with the sky obscured, loses his/her perception of depth. Or a pilot flying in cloud, or in poor weather conditions when the horizon is not visible, may feel he is banking to the left or right when he is actually flying straight and level. This could lead to over-correction, which could be disastrous if the pilot does not recover in time.


According to Wing Commander Abdul Naseer Hanfee, a decorated helicopter pilot who has extensive experience flying the Mi-17 helicopter in the Nilgiri mountains, where the crash occurred, there is often a huge build-up of moisture in those hills that builds up into clouds when the temperature rises.


When helicopter pilots try to fly through those clouds, they get spatially disoriented, resulting in their crashing into the ground. 


Experienced pilots, such as the two who were flying that helicopter, would return to their home base in Sulur, outside Coimbatore and return when the clouds dissipated somewhat. The Inquiry has not mentioned why the pilots did not do so.


Lessons will be learned from this accident, said Hanfee. That is also evident from the MoD release, which states: “Based on its findings, the Court of Inquiry has made certain recommendations which are being reviewed.”


  1. # there is a select, carefully chosen cohort of flyers for the flight of rotary winged aircraft of the IAF, based at sulur to ferry brass to wellington. IAF pilots are combat pilots, not civilian air taxi operators. surely the IAF training, both on simulators and in actual flying includes having to cope with flying into impossible terrain in the high himalayas, from kashmir, ladakh all the way to arunachal. and combat flying includes not only flying in foul weather, at just below the altitude ceiling, but with both active and passive evasion, protection protocols turned on since military flying will be always into hostile conditions that includes enemy fire, AA as well as shoulder fired missiles. to then be unable to not be disoriented by met conditions, even nilgiri plateau met conditions, indicates our training, actual flying experience may not be as robust as required, necessitated. with due apologies for being the jeremiah but there is something seriously wrong with our delighting at ceremonials, ruritanian costumery, close order drill, march pasts, displays to thrill the raksha mantri, PM, rashtrapati then blundering in live fire drills, mobilizations, actual operations. too many instances of absolute absence of professionalism in the last two months - this particular incident, the special forces panicking and indulging in indiscriminate firing mixing up naga villagers for armed UG, and the prime minister's security detachment, the much vaunted special protection group, they always look especially fierce, now in a spectacular screwup take the PM onto a cul-de-sac situation atop an overpass with no other option than backpedal from the dead end. does not take much to figure out what will actually happen in an actual operational situation of anarchy, chaos.

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