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May 28, 1999
IAF clueless about 'missing' pilots
Amberish K Diwanji in New Delhi
The Indian Air Force has still has not traced the two missing pilots, one of whom ejected from his MiG-27 aircraft after his engine had failed. The other aircraft, a MiG-21, was shot down by a Pakistani missile yesterday.
Pakistan has claimed that it has captured one of the pilots, Flight Lieutenant K Nachiketa, who ejected from his MiG-27 after it developed a technical snag.
The Indian Air Force has demanded that if Pakistan does have the custody of the pilot, he should be treated as a prisoner of war under the Geneva Convention, and returned.
Brigadier Joginder Jaswant Singh, deputy director of military operations, pointed out that the two pilots were operating in uniform and hence should be treated as per the rules of the Geneva Convention.
There is no news about the other pilot, Squadron Leader Ajay Ahuja, whose MiG-21 was shot down by a Pakistani missile when he was searching for Nachiketa.
"Squadron Leader Ahuja went to look for his flying mate Nachiketa in the finest traditions of the Indian Air Force, disregarding the threat to his own life from the treacherous terrain and enemy fire, when his plane was shot down. Our information and from the talks over the radio before he was hit clearly indicates that he was still in Indian airspace when his aircraft was hit," said Air Vice Marshal S K Malik, additional assistant chief of air staff.
It is feared that Squadron Leader Ahuja may have been killed after the missile hit his aircraft as he would probably not have had the time to eject before his plane crashed.
The IAF is still maintaining stoic silence. The wreckage of the MiG-21 has also not been located so far though search missions are on.
Air Vice Marshal Malik admitted that Nachiketa might have strayed over Pakistan airspace after the engine failed and the pilot was desperately looking for a clearing so that he could eject.
"In such a situation, the priority is to clear the high mountain peaks and avoid crashing into them. Moreover, since we are operating close to the Line of Control, in such a situation a plane whose engine has failed would be looking for some clear area for the pilot to eject. It may have strayed very close to the LoC. Also, since the pilot ejects at a high altitude, strong winds can blow him across a few kilometres and he might have gone into Pakistani territory," he said.
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