*NEW DELHI - *The Indian Air Force may press charges against officers found guilty of lapses that led to the downing of an Mi-17 helicopter on February 27, apparently by friendly fire.
Six IAF personnel and a civilian were killed when the helicopter disintegrated and crashed in Budgam on the day that Indian and Pakistani jets squared off along the Line of Control following the IAF airstrike on Balakot, Pakistan.
The chopper is believed to have been taken down by an Israeli-origin air defence system fired in error on the Indian side, The Wire has reported.
Though the court of inquiry (CoI) has yet to submit its final report, the findings reveal several lapses which led to the catastrophe.
An earlier report by defence analyst Ajai Shukla link said that the CoI had “conclusively determined” that the Mi-17 V5 helicopter was brought down by friendly fire. Shukla said the IAF has been asked to “hold” the findings until after elections.
On Tuesday, two days after the final phase of voting, two national newspapers reported that the IAF is considering charging officers with culpable homicide not amounting to murder.
According to the *Hindustan Times* link, the senior-most officer of the Srinagar air force base has been removed for related reasons. The Air Officer Commanding (AOC) Srinagar Air Base was removed as the incident occurred on his watch.
Other lapses, the *HT* report says, include air traffic control asking the chopper to return to base while Indian and Pakistani jets were engaged. “Ideally, the helicopter should have been sent away to a safer zone instead of being called back to the base,” a senior defence ministry official told the paper.
The officer who was Terminal Weapons Director (TWD) is also under scrutiny, an *Economic Times* report link said, as the person who cleared the missile’s launch. The CoI is determining whether the TWD was present at the control room when the command to fire the missile was issued, or if he relayed it over a hand-held transmitter.
The report adds that the helicopter was not marked a “red target” by the IAF’s Integrated Air Command and Control System (IACCS) at Barnala, Punjab. The IACCS monitors incoming aircraft from Pakistan. “A Spyder [air defence system] unit reported a lock-on and the order to fire was issued, possibly under the impression that the target was an incoming unmanned aerial vehicle,” an unidentified officer told *ET*.
Both newspapers reported that the proceedings could take months, even a year, to complete because the investigating team needs to meticulously collect data and evidence, in view of the serious charges that could be initiated against culpable officers.