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India: MiG-21 aircraft crashes into house, 3 dead

May 8, 2023

A Russian-built MiG-21 jet suffered an "onboard emergency" and crashed into a house in the western state of Rajasthan. The Cold War-era Soviet plane, in the skies since 1955, was once the backbone of India's Air Force.

A Mikoyan MiG-21 supersonic jet fighter and interceptor aircraft performs a flight at the 12th edition of Aero India Show, Aero India 2019, at the Yelahanka Air Force Station in Bengaluru (Bangalore), Karnataka, India.
MiG-21's were among the earliest supersonic jets, with the model making its maiden flight more than 70 years ago, in 1955Image: Marina Lystseva/TASS/dpa/picture alliance

Three civilians were killed on Monday when a MIG-21 military aircraft crashed into a house in the western Indian state of Rajasthan.

The Indian Air Force said in a statement that the plane had taken off for a a "routine operational training sortie" from a nearby base. 

"Soon thereafter, the pilot experienced an onboard emergency, following which he attempted to recover the aircraft as per existing procedures. Having failed to do so, he initiated an ejection, sustaining minor injuries in the process," the Air Force said. 

"The aircraft wreckage fell on a house in Bahlol Nagar in Hanumangarh District, unfortunately leading to the loss of three lives." 

The Air Force said an inquiry had been set up to ascertain the cause of the crash. 

Patchy safety record, India modernizing arsenal

MIG-21s have had a shaky history in India, although for decades they were the backbone of the country's Air Force. First acquired from the Soviet Union in 1963, several later variants were added to the fleet over the years.

However, India's continued reliance on the outdated technology is a point of contention for its aviators, with the model among the handful of planes downy the years that some dissatisfied crews have taken to nickname a "flying coffin" after multiple fatal crashes. 

Last July, two pilots were killed when their twin-seater MIG-21 trainer aircraft crashed near Barmer, also in Rajasthan. That was the sixth MiG-21 crash since Janauar 2021, with five pilots killed in all. 

India's military has also suffered several other recent fatal air accidents. 

Last week, an Indian-made army helicopter with three people on board crashed in the Jammu and Kashmir region.  

And two Indian fighter jets collided mid-air during routine exercises in January 2023, south of the Indian capital of New Delhi. One of the pilots died in the collision. That incident involved two far more modern planes, a Russian-made Sukhoi Su-30 and French-made Mirage 2000.

In January 2020, India's most senior military officer, then-Chief of Defense Staff Bipin Rawat, was one of 13 people killed when a Russian-made military transport helicopter crashed en route to an air base.

India is trying to modernize its air force with a mixture of acquisitions from Russia and France, and also by trying to develop a domestic aviation industry of its own.

mk/msh (AFP, Reuters)