An armed forces tribunal on Monday stayed disciplinary action against two officers who were held responsible for circumstances leading to the shooting down of an Mi-17 helicopter of the IAF by its own missile in Kashmir’s Budgam on February 27 last year when the Indian and Pakistani air forces were engaged in a fierce dogfight.
The disciplinary action initiated by the Indian Air Force against Group Captain SR Chowdhary and Wing Commander Shyam Naithani based on a Court of Inquiry into the crash of the chopper has been stayed by the Principal Bench of the Armed Forces Tribunal, Advocate Ankur Chibber, the lawyer of the two officers, said.
A high-level probe by the IAF found that a surface-to-air missile of the force brought down the chopper. Six IAF personnel on board the chopper and a civilian on the ground were killed in the crash.
The helicopter crashed in Budgam at around 10 AM on February 27 when Indian and Pakistani fighter jets were engaged in fierce aerial combat in Nowshera, a day after India’s air strike in Balakot in Pakistan.
The helicopter went down around 10 minutes after taking off.
“Both the officers had challenged the court of inquiry as well as its findings on the grounds of violation of rule 156 sub clause two of air force rules,” Chibber said, adding they also questioned composition of the Court of Inquiry.
He said the tribunal headed by Lt Gen (retd) Philip Campose and Justice Rajendra Menon found violations in formation of the CoI and directed that no action should be taken against the two officers. The next date of hearing in the case September 30.
The probe had found that the ‘Identification of Friend or Foe’ (IFF) system on-board the helicopter was switched off and there were “vital gaps” in communication and coordination between the ground staff and the crew of the chopper.
It also found violations of standard operating procedures. The IFF helps air defence radars identify whether an aircraft or helicopter is friendly or hostile.
At his annual press conference on October 4 last year, Chief of Air Staff Air Chief Marshal RKS Bhadauria had called the incident a “big mistake” and promised action against those found guilty. Following the incident, the IAF transferred the Air Officer Commanding (AOC) of Srinagar base to ensure a thorough probe into the incident.