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Chopper crash inquiry complete, CFIT probable cause

Findings sent for legal review after which they would be submitted to the Government

The tri-service inquiry ordered into the ill-fated chopper crash which killed Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) Gen. Bipin Rawat and others is complete with officials indicating the probable cause to be Controlled Flight Into Terrain (CFIT). The findings have been sent for legal review after which the report would be submitted to the Government, a defence official said on condition of anonymity.

“The findings have been sent for legal vetting. It will take about 10 to 15 days for finalisation,” the official said on Friday.

Two officials in the know of the matter said CFIT was the most probable cause of the crash and the inquiry report, once submitted, would throw more light on it.

The Indian Air Force (IAF) Mi-17V5 helicopter with Gen. Rawat, his wife Madhulika Rawat and 12 others including his staff, the pilots and crew was enroute to the Defence Services Staff College, Wellington, from Sulur on December 8 when it crashed in the Nilgris in Tamil Nadu close to the destination. A tri-service inquiry was ordered by the IAF headed by Air Marshal Manvendra Singh, Air Officer Commanding-in-Chief Training Command to investigate the crash.

As part of the inquiry, the Flight Data Recorder (FDR) as well as the Cockpit Voice Recorder (CVR) were recovered and sent for analysis to reconstruct the last moments before the crash.

CFIT means that the pilot is in full control of the aircraft but due to faulty situational awareness the aircraft strikes the terrain, explained Air Vice Marshal Manmohan Bahadur (Retd), a former helicopter pilot.

“An example could be of an aircraft doing low flying over a large expanse of water and striking it due to lack of depth perception. A similar strike could happen over snow,” he said elaborating on what CFIT means.

A CFIT means the helicopter was fully serviceable and instruments are in order, a senior Army pilot who has flown extensively in the mountain said. The crash is likely due to loss of situational awareness and disorientation which in most cases is due to poor weather, he stated.

The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), defines CFIT as an unintentional collision with terrain (the ground, a mountain, a body of water, or an obstacle) while an aircraft is under positive control. “Most often, the pilot or crew is unaware of the looming disaster until it is too late. CFIT most commonly occurs in the approach or landing phase of flight,” an FAA fact sheet stated.

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