Life-Saving Gear Can Prevent Deaths, Says Father of Army Pilot Who Died in Crash

In petition to President Ram Nath Kovind, the father of Captain Jayant Joshi said his son, whose seat belt was found open, could have floated if he had been provided a life jacket while flying over the Ranjit Singh Dam reservoir in Jammu.

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New Delhi: Father of Captain Jayant Joshi, who was killed when his Rudra Weapon System Integrated (WSI) attack helicopter crashed into the Ranjit Sagar Dam reservoir in Jammu and Kashmir on August 3, has urged the president of India to “make it mandatory for all army pilots to undergo underwater survival training and also equip them with the essential life-saving gears” and to make their choppers “float worthy”.

In his petition to Ram Nath Kovind, who is also the Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, Harish Chander Joshi cited the case of his son’s helicopter crash to seek better and more advanced security features in the flying machines being used by the Army Aviation Corps.

‘Glaring lapses in safety processes’

He recalled in the petition that his son Jayant, of 254 Squadron, Army Aviation, along with Lt. Col. A.S. Batth, a test pilot and an aviation instructor, was flying a mission sortie, practicing target acquisition and deployment of integrated weapons, when their helicopter crashed in the dam reservoir. As a consequence they drowned in the deep waters.

While Batth’s body was recovered 13 days after the crash, Jayant’s remains were found on the 76th day. Joshi had twice petitioned the president in the intervening period to seek his intervention in ensuring that the search for his son’s body was not suspended as he had received feelers that he may be given a permanent water burial.

In his latest petition, Joshi has claimed that there were “many glaring gaps in the safety processes being followed in Army Aviation”. He said the investigation has “also apparently revealed an attitude of apathy and disregard in the matter of pilot safety and training needs among those responsible for the affairs of Army Aviation”.

`Reservoir provided obstacle free space for low flying’

Noting that Rudra WSI, an Advanced Light Helicopter, which is currently the mainstay attack helicopter of the Indian Army, is meant to fly low to avoid detection and fire by the enemy, Joshi said “it is meant to fly over ground”. Stating that since “Rudra was not meant to be flown over water”, he asked “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 army’s own publicity wing.”

Joshi, who stayed at the Mamun Military Station along with his wife, who is a Military Nursing Service officer, all the while that the search for his son was on, further said that he was told that the helicopter was being flown over the reservoir as “it was the only area available for low flying as it was free from obstacles”.

“If that be the case, did anyone responsible for running the affairs of Army Aviation, from top to down the squadron command level, realise the basic survival training needs of the men and provide them with the necessary safety gears before sending them for 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 asked in the petition.

The petition also delved into various others aspects of the investigation into the crash, including the analysis of the cockpit voice recorder/flight data recorder (CVR/FDR) by the court of inquiry team; the CCTV footage of the crash; and an eyewitness account, Joshi admitted that he has “no means to find the exact reason behind the crash except what the court of enquiry investigation has established”, a little about which he had learnt.

`Lack of basic safety gear one of the causes of death’

Joshi said while both the pilots were dead and cannot present their point of view, it was “very much evident” that “lack of training as well as lack of basic safety gears for flying over water are perhaps to be blamed for this crash”.

“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,” he added.

Stating that Jayant’s “seat belt was found to be properly opened when the aircraft wreckage was recovered”, he said, “clearly, my son was free from any obstacle to float. The same was the case with the other pilot.”

But in the absence of a life jacket, Joshi said, they could not float. “Had a basic life-saving gear in the form of a life jacket been provided to my 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.”

‘I have lost my son, please save other pilots from a similar fate’

In light of these findings, Joshi urged the president to make it mandatory for all army pilots to undergo underwater survival training and to equip them with the essential life-saving gears. He also demanded that their life-saving skill up-gradation should be done through periodic training modules and their aircraft should be made float worthy.

“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,” said the aggrieved father.