Army Aviation’s Cheetah helicopter crash landed in Arunachal Pradesh; 2 pilots dead

Two pilots were killed after an Army Aviation Cheetah (Aérospatiale SA 315B Lama) helicopter flying an operational sortie near Bomdila in Arunachal Pradesh bordering China crashed near Mandala, west of Bomdila, on Thursday, March 16.

The Army has ordered a court of inquiry into the crash, said a defence spokesperson. The deceased pilots have been identified as Lt Colonel VVB Reddy and Major Jayanth A.

Lt Col Reddy, 37, is survived by his wife, a dental officer in the Army, and two daughters, aged four and six. Major Jayanth, 35, is survived by his wife, who is based in Missamari, Assam, where he was posted.

“An Army chopper lost contact midway and could not be located while it was en route to Missamari from Senge village. At around 12.30 pm villagers from Bangjalep, Dirang PS informed that a crashed chopper was found,” Arunachal Pradesh Police said. Police said the area had no signal and the weather was extremely foggy with a visibility of 5 metres.

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.

Previously, 13 Indian Air Force personnel died after an AN-32 aircraft crashed on June 3, 2019, after taking off from Assam’s Jorhat. The aircraft was headed for Mechuka Advanced Landing Ground (ALG) in Arunachal Pradesh when it lost contact with ground authorities at around 1 pm.

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After a massive search and rescue operation for eight days, during which assets from several agencies were deployed, the aircraft’s wreckage was located by a Mi-17 chopper. The remains of IAF personnel were retrieved on June 20 from Arunachal Pradesh where the plane crashed. The wreckage was located 16 km north of Lipo in Arunachal Pradesh at an elevation of 12,000 feet.

The forces’ fleet of Chetak and Cheetah helicopters serves as a lifeline in sea and extremely high-altitude regions; in addition to their vital duties in observation, surveillance, logistics support, and rescue operations, the IAF also utilises them to teach pilots in its flight schools.

350 Chetaks and more than 275 Cheetahs have been produced by Hindustan Aeronautics Limited. The single-engine helicopters, on the other hand, have had serviceability problems ever since they outlived their usefulness more than ten years ago.

Issues with outdated avionics and navigation systems enhance the likelihood that controls may be misused in the event of disorientation in turbulent weather, which is frequently unpredictable in the highlands.

The lifeblood of the forces in high-altitude zones, the Chetak and Cheetah helicopters have been flown by the Army and the IAF despite their urgent need for replacement. Nowadays, the Army has over 200 Cheetah and Chetak helicopters in service, and the IAF has about 120.

Between 2017 and 2022, about ten Chetak and Cheetah helicopters belonging to the Army, Navy, and IAF have crashed.

42 members of the Indian armed services have died in 45 aircraft and helicopter crashes over the previous five years, the government reported to Parliament in March 2022.

The Military Services have been requesting contemporary helicopters to replace their fleet of Chetak and Cheetah, but procurement progress has been incredibly slow.