Gnat Handling Flight: An Accident, Lesson Therefrom.

By Air Mshl MSD Wollen (Retd)

The IAF celebrated its 38th Anniversary by conducting a Fire Power Demo, Hunter Formation Aerobatic Display and a Flypast over Marine Drive, Bombay on 03 Apr 60.It was a magnificent airshow ; never seen before ; and meant for Bombayites. Credit goes to the late Air Mshl MM Engineer, AOC-in-C, WAC and the team he selected, particularly S/L A Sudhakaran, who delivered a superlative commentary.

Three Gnats from the GHF had to operate from Santa Cruz airfield. Two Gnats were to formate, one on each wing-tip of a newly acquired Boing 737, which was in the Flypast.

The Gnats took off from Kanpur on 19 Mar 60. Westerly winds at the tropo-pause necessitated a landing at Nagpur enroute to Santa Cruz; a safety measure. The formation was led by S/L Wollen, no 2, S/L Raghavendran (OC 23 Squadron), no 3, F/L Jakatdar. Before descent, at about 175 nm from Nagpur, Wollen contacted ATC Nagpur on Channel ‘C’. What was not known to the formation was that all transmissions on this channel were recorded (most fortunate for Wollen).

The Gnat flown by R’vendran, experienced an engine flame-out. Relights, carried out below 28,000 ft, were unsuccessful. Wollen warned R’vendran they were approaching 10,000 ft AGL and to eject. Ejection was successful ; the pilot landed in an open field ; the aircraft crashed in open country. The site was approx 60 nm from the airfield. Wollen overflew “a standing-up” R’vendran and reported details to ATC Nagpur. He gave Jakatdar “pigeons” to the airfield and instructed him to land there. Wollen then flew to the airfield. A Tiger Moth trainer was available. Captain Baker, CFI, of the local Flying Club, flew Wollen to the crash site (no fees were charged). A Police party was at the site but the pilot was absent (we later learnt he had walkd to the nearby railway line and caught a goods train to Nagpur railway station). Wollen and Jakatdar completed their flights to Santa Cruz.

In the late evening, the Director Operations, Air HQ (Air Cmde KN Gocal) rang Wollen stating they had no news of R’vendran. He asked if Wollen was certain that the ejection was successful. He instructed Wollen to get back to Nagpur the next morning and attend a Court of Inquiry. By the time Wollen reached Nagpur, the Cof I had assembled. The Court was most apprehensive until the tapes, containing recordings, from ATC Nagpur were produced. The “air’ was immediately cleared. It transpired that the ATC officer (civilian) was not at his place of duty, and did not report the R/T calls from Wollen. The ATC officer was suspended. The cause of the engine flame-out was not established.

Is there something to be learnt (again) from this story. Yes. If no-one is injured, as a result of an air crash, one should not leave the site. A Police party will arrive and get surviving aircrew rapidly to safety.

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