The incident happened on the morning of February 27

by Pradip R Sagar

The preliminary findings of the Court of Inquiry into the fatal crash of Indian Air Force's Mi-17 helicopter in Jammu and Kashmir on February 27 have indicated that it could be a result of 'friendly fire'. But the probing officials are yet to fix responsibility for the accident.

Sources claimed that the inquiry is looking into the lapses and will try to fix the responsibility if the chopper pilot was at fault or the air defence commander did not do the due diligence before taking the chopper down.

The incident happened on the morning of February 27, a day after the IAF's Balakot strike, when IAF fighters were engaged in a dogfight with at least two dozen fighters of the Pakistan Air Force in the Nowshera sector along the Line of Control. Six air force personnel on board were killed in the crash. The helicopter was flown by Squadron Leader Siddharth Vashisht with other members—Squadron Leader Ninad Mandvgane, Kumar Pandey, Sergeant Vikrant Sehrawat, Corporals Deepak Pandey and Pankaj Kumar . 

"During the incident, Indian air defence systems were on operational alert and it is still a matter of investigation whether the air defence commander exceeded his brief or the pilot of the chopper was flying at the wrong place," said a source familiar with the probe.

Besides lack of communication, technical compatibility issue has also cropped up during the incident as there could be a failure of the system put in place to protect assets from friendly fire. Russian build Mi-17 chopper was fired from an Israel made Spyder air defence missile systems.

"Integration issue is also being looked into as missile could have avoided hitting its own machine if both platforms were compatible to each other," the official added.

A Court of Inquiry is trying to connect the dots in the entire episode and the black box of the chopper will play a key role in the investigation. Efforts are on to trace the black box of the chopper because it provides complete details of the happenings to know the sequence of events before the crash.

Officials claimed that it is also a possibility that pilot may not have put on the Identification Friend or Foe systems, a technology developed during World War II, that identifies the flying object to radars, whether it is a an enemy or own object.