Two pilots killed after Army’s Cheetah helicopter crashes near Arunachal’s Bomdila

Nearly 10 Chetak and Cheetah helicopters of the Army, Navy and the IAF have crashed between 2017 and 2022.

In March 2022, the government told Parliament that 42 Indian armed forces personnel have been killed in the last five years in 45 aircraft and helicopter crashes.

While the Armed Forces have been demanding modern helicopters to replace the Chetak and Cheetah fleet, the progress on their procurement has been extremely slow.

Two pilots were killed after an Army Aviation Cheetah helicopter, flying an operational sortie near Bomdila in Arunachal Pradesh, crashed on Thursday.

An investigation is being ordered to ascertain the cause of the accident, officials said.

Lt Col VVB Reddy and Major Jayanth A — pilot and co-pilot in the helicopter — were killed in the accident.

Major Jayanth, 35, is survived by his wife, who is based in Missamari, Assam, where he was posted.

Obeisance was paid with full military honours at Tezpur to the mortal remains of Lt Col VVB Reddy and Maj Jayanth A of Army Aviation, who sacrificed their lives in the line of duty on 16 March 23 while on an operational sortie in Arunachal Pradesh.

Wreath was laid on behalf of a grateful nation for the untiring service to the nation by the officers. The mortal remains have been moved to their home towns Yadadri (near Hyderabad), Telangana and Madurai, Tamilnadu in a Special Military Plane.

What was behind the helicopter crash

According to the Army, the helicopter is reported to have lost contact with the ATC around 9.15 am, and five search parties of the Army, SSB and ITBP were immediately launched. The wreckage of the aircraft was found near Banglajaap village, in Mandala.

As per the source helicopter had taken off from Missamari and had picked up a senior Army officer near Bomdila. It was scheduled to travel close to forward areas near Tawang for a recce sortie. “However, as weather conditions deteriorated, the flight was cut short and the officer was dropped at Senge. The helicopter was returning to base when the mishap took place,” an official said.

Another official said the chopper was flying downwards when it crashed. “While Cheetahs are ageing, they undergo routine maintenance. Only the inquiry would be able to ascertain the exact cause of the crash,” the official said.

The region is characterised by difficult mountainous terrain, and the weather is often unpredictable, leading to helicopter-flying operations getting called off at times at the last moment due to poor visibility.

The Chetak and Cheetah helicopters

The Chetak and Cheetah helicopters in service with the forces form the lifeline in sea and extreme high-altitude areas — they play key roles of observation, surveillance, logistics support and rescue operations, and the IAF also uses them to train pilots in its flying schools.

Hindustan Aeronautics Limited has produced more than 275 Cheetahs and 350 Chetaks.

However, the single-engine helicopters outlived their lives over a decade ago and have been facing serviceability issues ever since.

Problems include obsolete avionics and navigation systems, which increases chances of mishandling of controls in case of disorientation in turbulent weather, which often is unpredictable in the hills.

The Army and the IAF have been flying the Chetak and Cheetah helicopters, which have been in dire need of replacement, as they form the lifeline of the forces in high-altitude areas. There are around 200 Cheetah and Chetak helicopters in service at present with the Army, and around 120 with the IAF.

Lt. Col N Thagarajan (Veteran)
Lt. Col N Thagarajan (Veteran)

Lieutenant Colonel N. Thiagarajan is a distinguished geopolitical and defence analyst and boasts over three decades of experience in the Indian Army. His expertise lies in strategic analysis, military affairs, interpreting complex international relations dynamics, and assessing their impact on global security.