Su-30MKI fighter crashes near Nashik; both pilots safe

Su-30MKI An IAF Su-30MKI being refuelled in the air | Facebook account of Indian Air Force

An Su-30MKI aircraft, awaiting induction in the Indian Air Force, crashed near Nashik on Wednesday morning, police said.

There were no casualties, police said, adding both the pilots ejected safely before the plane hit the ground.

The under-production Sukhoi Su-30MKI twin-engined multi-role fighter, which was built by Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL), crashed in a farm at Wavi-Thushi village near Pimpalgaon Baswant town, around 25km from Nashik, police said.

The aircraft crashed at 11.05am and the Pimpalgaon police station received information about the crash at 11.15am, a police official said.

The aircraft, developed by Russia's Sukhoi and built under licence by HAL, had taken off from the HAL airstrip near Nashik, police said.

A top official involved with aircraft production told reporters that the Su-30MKI that crashed was the first of a batch produced at the Aircraft Manufacturing Division at HAL Nashik this year.

"Normally, around 12 aircraft for a new squadron are manufactured and each aircraft, worth over Rs 300 crore, has a manufacturing cycle of around three years," the official said.

"This particular aircraft had completed several flights and was about to be inducted into the IAF," he said.

Before induction, such aircraft are flown by either HAL pilots or IAF pilots under deputation with HAL, he said.

Asked about villagers seeing three parachutes in the sky after the crash, the official said the illusion of the third parachute may be due to the canopy opening first before both the pilots ejected to safety.

While India received its first SU-30 fighters in 1997, the Su-30MKI variants were first inducted in 2002. The Su-30MKI was specifically developed for India and features Israeli and French electronics and an upgraded engine capable of 'thrust vectoring', giving it enhanced manoeuvrability.

India has a total of 272 Su-30MKIs on order and nearly 250 are currently in service. At least eight Su-30MKIs have crashed in IAF service since its induction in 2002, and Wednesday's crash is the first incident involving a 'brand-new' aircraft. While the Su-30MKI's overall safety record has been satisfactory, concerns have been raised about its low service availability and unreliable AL-31 engines.