Tejas crashes in Jaisalmer in first accident involving indigenous LCA, no casualties

Tejas aircraft of the Indian Air Force (IAF) crashed during an operational training sortie, near Jaisalmer, Tuesday, March 12, 2024. Pilot of the aircraft ejected safely.
Tejas aircraft of the Indian Air Force (IAF) crashed during an operational training sortie, near Jaisalmer, Tuesday, March 12, 2024. Pilot of the aircraft ejected safely.

Jaisalmer/New Delhi | A Tejas light combat aircraft (LCA) of the Indian Air Force crashed near a residential colony in Jaisalmer on Tuesday while returning from a tri-services military exercise in Pokhran desert in the first accident involving the indigenously-built single-engine jet since it began flying in 2001. There were no casualties.

The pilot ejected safely and a court of inquiry has been ordered to ascertain the cause of the accident, the IAF said in a brief statement.

The crash took place around 100 km from the Pokhran desert in Rajasthan where a mega war game 'Bharat Shakti' witnessed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and top military brass was underway.

The jet, belonging to the IAF's No 18 squadron or 'Flying Bullets', showcased its operational prowess along with two other Tejas aircraft in the war game, military sources said adding the aircraft was returning after flying in a formation.

It is learnt that the aircraft was on its way back to the Jaisalmer air base.

"A Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) Tejas of the Indian Air Force crashed near Jaisalmer today during an operational training sortie. The pilot ejected safely," the IAF said.

"A court of inquiry has been ordered to ascertain the cause of the accident," it said.

The sources said the Tejas MK I aircraft that crashed was a final operational clearance (FOC) variant and it had all the safety features.

Tejas was given initial operational clearance in 2011 and it was inducted into the IAF in 2016.

A video showed that the aircraft glided at low altitude and was eventually up in flames on hitting the ground shortly after the pilot ejected safely.

Jaisalmer Additional Superintendent of Police Mahendra Singh said there was no loss of human life in the crash near Kalla and Jawahar residential colonies. A portion of a hostel building was damaged but there was no one inside at the time, added another police official.

Thick black smoke was seen billowing from the single-storey brick structure. Scores of people stood at a distance as the mangled remains of the plane smouldered.

"The pilot is safe and no other person was injured in the incident. There were people all around the site of the incident and fortunately all are safe," Jaisalmer MLA Chhotu Singh Bhati, who reached the spot after the incident, told reporters.

An eyewitness said the pilot ejected shortly before the plane crashed. "As soon as the plane hit the ground, there was a loud sound," he told reporters.

Fire brigades were rushed to the site and flames were doused.

"The pilot was taken to a hospital. A team of doctors carried out his medical check-up and his condition is fine," an official said.

Officials said it was the first Tejas jet involved in an accident. Tejas is a single-seater aircraft and twin-seater trainer variant is also operated by the IAF.

Manufactured by state-run aerospace behemoth Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL), the Tejas aircraft is a potent platform for air combat and offensive air support missions while reconnaissance and anti-ship operations are its secondary roles.

The project to build Tejas aircraft finally took off in 1984 after years of deliberations and the jet was formally declared fit to fly in 2011.

The Tejas aircraft came under some scrutiny when one of the jets developed a technical snag during a sortie in October 2020.

Group Captain Varun Singh was conferred with the Shaurya Chakra, India's third highest peacetime gallantry award, for averting a possible mid-air accident after his Tejas light combat aircraft was hit by a technical problem.

Singh was among 14 people killed in a helicopter crash in December 2021. Then Chief of Defence Staff General Bipin Rawat was killed in the accident.

The IAF received the first two Tejas aircraft having the initial operational clearance (IOC) configuration on July 1, 2016, after a wait of over three decades.

The final operational clearance (FOC) configuration of the aircraft was announced in February 2019.

The FOC involves the addition of key capabilities to the Initial Operational Clearance (IOC) aircraft which are beyond visual range missile capabilities, air-to-air refuelling and several other features.

Tejas aircraft are set to be the mainstay of the IAF.

In February 2021, the defence ministry sealed a Rs 48,000 crore deal with Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd for the procurement of 83 Tejas MK-1A jets for the IAF.

In November last, the ministry accorded an initial approval to procure an additional batch of 97 Tejas jets for the IAF.

Several countries including Nigeria, the Philippines, Argentina and Egypt have shown interest in procuring the Tejas aircraft.

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