The Hawk fighter trainer that crashed on March 20, 2018

Sources in the Indian Air Force said probes have been conducted into all the crashes

Bhubaneswar: The Amarda region, infamously known as India’s Bermuda Triangle, is a “mystery zone” that’s neither talked about much nor investigated despite the fact that it has snuffed out many lives without a trace of even the remains. At least 16 planes, most of them fighter-trainers, have crashed in Odisha’s Mayurbhanj district of the region in the last 74 years.

The toll in these mishaps has been about 25. Ironically, these incidents have not been investigated properly. Sources in the Indian Air Force said probes have been conducted into all the crashes. However, their findings cannot be made public.

“Probes have been conducted into all the crashes, either in the pre-Independence or post-Independence period. However, since all the planes belonged to the defence establishments and the probe findings come under top secret category, they cannot be made public,” said the sources.

An American Liberator that crashed in 1944

According to researcher Anil Dhir, the triangle from Piarboda near Bankura in West Bengal to Chakulia in Jharkhand and Amarda Road Airfield in Odisha has seen nearly 16 crashes since the airfields were set up in the last years of the World War II. The earliest recorded crash was on May 4, 1944, when an American Liberator collided with a Harvard de Havilland plane and went up in flames at the Amarda Road airfield killing four crewmen. This spot is just 100 km from Mahuldangri village in East Singhbhum district, Jharkhand, where a Hawk trainer plane crashed on March 20, 2018. The pilot in the latest crash ejected safely with the help of a parachute.

On the night of May 7, 1944, another Liberator, which had taken off from Digri on a special mission, crashed 20 minutes after take-off killing 10 crewmen. Similarly, another De Havilland fighter had crashed after take-off from the Amarda Road Station on May 13, 1944, but the crew was saved. On October 28, 1944, a Liberator that had taken off on a night sortie and crashed near Salboni, killing eight of the crew. The biggest crash was on July 26, 1945, when two British Royal Air Force B-24 Liberator four-engine bombers, EW225 and EW247 — fighter planes — collided at low altitude.

The aircraft were based at the Amarda Road airfield and were part of a six-plane contingent from the Air Fighting Training Unit engaged in a formation flying exercise. Fourteen airmen — the crews of the two aircraft — died. The spot is now in West Bengal. There are at least half a dozen more crashes from these airfields in which the planes crashed in the Bay of Bengal and were never found. According Bibek Patnaik, former collector of Mayurbhanj, a fighter plane had crashed in the Amarda region in 1975, but it was not reported because of proclamation of the Emergency. The researcher points out that in the last two years of the World War II, the allied forces had anticipated Japanese onslaught from the North-East and a string of airfields were made in the region. These included the airfields at Jharsuguda, Amarda Road, Charbatia, Hijli, Dudhkundi, Digri, Salua, Chakulia, Kalaikunda and Bishnupur. Amarda Road was the biggest airfield.

“Several aircraft which took part in the Burma operations were managed from here. The Burma operations and the China Hump operations had the highest casualties; the Hump route was termed the graveyard of aircraft. One in six pilots who operated this route lost his life. In all, 594 aircraft were lost, missing or written off and 1,659 crewmen killed or went missing. In fact, crash wrecks are still being discovered in the hills of Arunachal Pradesh and Meghalaya. Most of the airfields are now disused and forgotten,” says Mr Dhir.

Mr Dhir says that most of these crashes in this area occurred in good weather conditions and the reasons for mishaps remain unexplained.

“Actually there is no single theory that can explain all disappearances. The airplanes that crashed have been victims to different circumstances and situations while flying over this triangle area. Half of the crashes remain unexplained, resulting in speculation,” says the researcher.

In the spot

May 4, 1944: An American Liberator collides with a Harvard de Havilland plane; 4 crewmen killed.
May 7, 1944: Another Liberator takes off from Digri airfield and crashes 20 minutes later. 10 crewmen killed.
May 13, 1944: A De Havilland fighter crashes after takeoff from the Amarda Road Station. The crew miraculously saved.
October 28, 1944: A Liberator had takes off on a night sortie and crashes near Salboni, approximately 90 kms from the present crash; eight of the crew killed.
July 26, 1945: Two British Royal Air Force B-24 Liberator four-engine bombers, EW225 and EW247 based at Amarda Road collide at low altitude; 14 airmen killed.
March 20, 2018: Hawk fighter-plane crashes, pilot ejects safely.