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Days before death, pilot wrote about ‘blanking out’
In an article, he described the phenomenon which, Navy suspects, may have caused the crash
Posted online: Wednesday, January 04, 2006 at 0133 hours IST
NEW DELHI, JANUARY 3: Days before Navy pilot Lt Commander Harpawan Pannu gunned his Sea Harrier fighter for what would be his last take-off, he had warned of the dangers of disorientation while flying a fighter in a Naval flight safety journal.
Ironically, it is precisely this condition which, the Navy suspects, caused the crash that killed the 30-year-old pilot.
Apart from the almost prophetic nature of Pannu’s article in the November’s issue of Meatball —the Navy’s in-house flight safety journal—the Naval Headquarters is still befuddled by the circumstances surrounding the accident at Goa’s Dabolim airfield on December 5.
That morning, Pannu, a pilot with the INAS 552 squadron, had been on a full thrust take-off roll in his Sea Harrier. But the alarmed Air Traffic Controllers watched as the jet zoomed far beyond the point at which it was to lift off.
Seconds before the aircraft rammed a concrete wall at the far end of the tarmac, Pannu contacted the controllers to say ‘‘barrier approaching’’.
The next moment, they saw the fireball.
Supporting the Navy’s suspicions that Pannu may have ‘‘frozen at the controls’’ or ‘‘blanked out’’ is the fact that he had not reported any mechanical failure, which he would have done if there was a component malfunction.
Pannu had gone through the mandatory pre-flight medical tests and was cleared for the mission.
Sources told The Indian Express that the court of inquiry ordered to investigate the crash has had little success in isolating a cause, because there was hardly any material evidence left to work with. The aircraft had been almost completely destroyed.
In the journal, in article titled ‘‘It Happened To Me’’, Pannu had described a dangerous situation he encountered years ago while being flight-trained on a MiG-21 T-69 trainer aircraft at the Tezpur MiG training unit. Presenting a detailed account of what could easily have ended in an engine flameout and crash of the trainer, Pannu wrote, ‘‘...one has to be very much alive to the present situation and this can only be done by learning and practising the checks and procedures again and again’’.
The footnote to his article reads: ‘‘A person who learns from his mistakes is smart. A person who learns from other people’s mistakes is smarter.’’ Meanwhile, remembering him as one of its bright, highly capable and upcoming officers, the Navy has decided to honour Pannu’s memory in a special way.
Footage of the officer at the Goa Naval air base will be a prominent part of a short film being made by the Navy for its upcoming fleet review.