A surface-to-air missile of the Indian Air Force brought down the Mi-17 aircraft in Kashmir's Budgam on the morning of February 27 when the Indian and Pakistani air forces were engaged in a fierce dogfight, a high-level probe has concluded.
After nearly six months of investigation, the IAF's Court of Inquiry also held five personnel of the force responsible for the crash, top government sources said Friday.
Six IAF personnel on board the chopper and a civilian on the ground were killed in the crash.
The CoI into the incident found that the Mi-17 V-5 helicopter was hit by a ground-based missile of the Indian Air Force when the chopper was on its way back to Srinagar air base, the sources said.
Five IAF personnel, including the Chief Operating Officer (COO) of the Srinagar base, were held responsible for the crash and all of them are likely to face severe punishment, sources said.
"The guilty personnel will face severe punishment as per provisions of the military law," said a source, adding that the IAF top brass will decide on the quantum of punishment for those held responsible for the incident.
The IAF will initiate strong action against the guilty based on the report of the CoI. This could include charging the guilty with culpable homicide not amounting to murder, the sources said.
There is no immediate comment from the IAF on the findings of the probe.
The probe found that the 'Identification of Friend or Foe' (IFF) system on-board the helicopter was switched off and there were "vital gaps" in communication and coordination between the ground staff and the crew of the chopper.
It also found violations of standard operating procedures. The IFF helps air defence radars identify whether an aircraft or helicopter is friendly or hostile.
The helicopter crashed in Budgam around 10 am on February 27 when Indian and Pakistani fighter jets were engaged in fierce aerial combat in Nowshera, a day after India's air strike on a Jaish-e-Mohammed terrorist training camp in Balakot in Pakistan.
The helicopter went down around 10 minutes after taking off.
Official sources said the helicopter was asked to return because of the dogfight 100 km away from Srinagar. A missile was fired at the helicopter as the IAF ground staff thought it was an enemy chopper.
The IAF headquarters had ordered a CoI into the incident under an Air Commodore-ranked officer.
In early May, the IAF transferred the Air Officer Commanding (AOC) of Srinagar base to ensure a thorough probe into the incident.
Sources said the CoI was also specifically focusing on examining the role of various people, including those controlling the air defence system when the helicopter was hit by the surface-to-air missile.