Yet another of the Indian Air Force's Soviet-era MiG-21 fighter aircraft crashed today in the Bijbehara area of Anantnag district in Kashmir, killing the pilot, Squadron Leader Raghuvanshi (32), the IAF said.
According to the villagers present there, the pilot steered the plane away from populated areas to save civilians lives.
"Once we heard about the crash we rushed to the site, took out the body of pilot and handed it over to the army and police," said a villager Mushtaq Ahmad.
The MiG-21, on a routine exercise, crashed in an open field at in the Bijbehara area, 45 km Srinagar.
Squadron Leader Raghuvanshi was a resident of Surat and had married four years ago.
The cause of the crash was not immediately known. The Air Force has ordered a court of inquiry.
While speaking about the incident, defence minister Arun Jaitley said he was "sorry" and that it was "a matter of grave concern".
"My heart goes out to the pilot who lost his life," he said.
Jammu & Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah tweeted, "My condolences to the family, friends and colleagues of the pilot killed in the MIG crash today. May his soul rest in peace."
The ageing and crash-prone MiG-21 was officially retired by the IAF amid fanfare in November last year (See: IAF bids fond farewell to Soviet-era MiG-21 fighter), but it seems to be continuing in some operations as India has put on hold a deal with France's Dassault for 126 Rafale fighters due to paucity of funds. (See: Rafale fighter deal put off as India's defence budget exhausted).
While exact figures of MiG-21 accidents do not exist in the public domain, over the last 40 years, India has lost more than half of its MiG combat fleet of 872 aircraft. Previous defence minister A K Antony disclosed in Parliament that 482 MiG aircraft accidents had taken place till 19 April 2012. Antony also revealed that these crashes led to the loss of lives of 171 pilots, 39 civilians and eight persons from other services.