Top IAF officers told ThePrint that the black box had been missing since the Mi-17 crashed in Budgam on 27 February

New Delhi: The black box of the Mi-17 V-5 helicopter that crashed in Budgam on 27 February, while the Indian and Pakistani air forces were locked in a dogfight 100 km away, is missing, a top Indian Air Force (IAF) source told ThePrint.

Six IAF personnel and a civilian were killed in the crash.

The black box is a crucial piece of evidence in any investigation into crashes as it stores communication and other information recorded during the flight.

Top IAF officers told ThePrint that the black box had been missing since the day of the crash itself. It is feared that the black box of the Mi-17 V-5 was stolen by one of the people who gathered at the site after the helicopter crashed.

“When our teams reached the spot, there were too many civilians all around who had a field run,” said one IAF officer.

“After the immediate retrieval of bodies, the IAF team focused on collecting items that would be needed for the inquiry. Somebody from the crowd had taken off with the flight data recorder,” the officer told ThePrint.

With the flight data recorder missing, the Court of Inquiry investigating the crash is said to be relying on witness statements and technical analysis of other components of the helicopter.

According to the IAF officer, technical members of the Court of Inquiry are in Bangalore with the helicopter’s components for investigation by the National Aerospace Laboratories.

IAF sources told ThePrint that the Court of Inquiry was at a very “crucial stage”, adding that statements of a number of witnesses, including IAF personnel, had been recorded.

“We have an idea about how the incident has taken place. But the Court of Inquiry will look into all issues with a fine comb before fixing responsibility,” the officer said.

“Rest assured, the IAF will not shy away from taking severe action in this case,” the officer quoted above said.

Victim of Friendly Fire?

There has been immense speculation since the day of the crash about the circumstances that led to it.

ThePrint had reported last month about suspicions that the chopper was brought down by friendly fire, that is, a weapon fired by Indian forces.

Preliminary findings of the Court of Inquiry also suggest the same. The helicopter took off and crashed within the same 10-minute window when the air skirmish was underway 100 km away. At the time, the region’s airbases and military installations were on hair-trigger alert, following reports of Pakistan Air Force planes flying into Indian territory.

Sources say that a Spyder short-range surface-to-air missile was fired.

The helicopter crash was the third within days involving IAF aircraft. The IAF is already in the process of finishing a Court of Inquiry into the Mirage 2000 crash that killed two personnel on 1 February, while another is investigating the midair collision of two Hawk jet trainers during Aero India rehearsals that killed one pilot on 19 February.