Five IAF crewmembers die as Super Hercules (pictured here landing in Daulat Beg Oldi) crashes near Gwalior
By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 29th Mar 14
An Indian Air Force (IAF) C-130J Super Hercules transport aircraft, recently acquired from the United States, crashed near Gwalior on Friday, killing all five people on board --- three crew-members (pilot, co-pilot and loadmaster) and two more IAF officers.
The IAF tersely stated on Friday that the Super Hercules “crashed 72 miles west of Gwalior airbase… (after getting) airborne from Agra at 1000 hours for a routine flying training mission. A Court of Inquiry has been ordered to investigate into the cause of the accident.”
So far there is no indication of what caused the crash in easy terrain and clear weather of an almost brand new, four-engine aircraft. In 2010, the IAF bought six Super Hercules for $962.7 million (Rs 5,750 crore). A subsequent contract has been signed for six more, which will start being delivered in 2016.
The Super Hercules is the world’s most survivable combat aircraft. Unlike fighter aircraft that zoom over their target, release their weapons load and return home at a thousand kilometres an hour, the Super Hercules transports soldiers to the heart of the land battle. Flying low, in pitch darkness to evade radar and visual detection, the Super Hercules uses satellite navigation to land without lights on a few hundred metres of unpaved mud in the tactical battle area. The 64 fully kitted Special Forces soldiers it carries quickly emerge to strike strategic objectives like unsecured nuclear weapons, terrorist leaders or key enemy headquarters.
Nor is the Super Hercules sensitive to rough weather. A variant of this aircraft is flown by the Hurricane Hunters --- the US Air Force’s legendary 53rd Weather Reconnaissance squadron that flies into typhoons and hurricanes to gather data about how such storms form. The Super Hercules was an integral part of India’s contingency plans for Cyclone Phailin last October, during the Uttarakhand floods, and the ongoing search for Malaysian Airways Flight MH370.
The C-130J Super Hercules is a significantly improved version of the venerated C-130 Hercules, which has been in continuous production longer than any other military aircraft. 70 countries, including Pakistan, operate the C-130. In 1988, Pakistani president, General Zia-ul-Haq died in a C-130 Hercules crash that was believed to be an assassination that involved disabling the crew in mid-flight.
16 air forces worldwide that operate almost 300 Super Hercules, have had only one fatal accident in over a million flight hours, including years of intense combat in Iraq and Afghanistan. The lone accident was not due to technical failure; a Norwegian C-130J crashed into a mountain in 2012.
Last August, when New Delhi wanted to send a message to Beijing about India’s ownership of a strategic salient near the Karakoram Pass at India’s northern tip, the IAF landed a Super Hercules on the mud-surfaced, 16,600 feet-high Daulat Beg Oldie airstrip. Earlier, in May 2012, when the IAF wanted to display its strategic reach, a Super Hercules flew a six-hour, non-stop mission from Delhi to the Andaman & Nicobar Islands.
Given the widespread usage of the C-130J, the IAF is not alone in wondering what caused the accident. The manufacturers of the Super Hercules, US giant Lockheed Martin Aerospace Ltd, is ready to assist in the accident investigation. Sources tell Business Standard that the IAF has not yet requested for technical assistance, but Lockheed Martin specialists will be made available whenever it does.
“As a manufacturer, we would certainly like to know what happened. There are users of the Super Hercules all over the world who would also be keen,” says a Lockheed Martin official.
The US embassy in New Delhi has conveyed its condolences to the IAF, Business Standard has learnt.