BENGALURU : Two young Indian Airforce (IAF) pilots were killed on Friday morning, when their Mirage 2000 fighter aircraft crashed shortly after take off at the Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) airport, located in the eastern part of Bengaluru.

“HAL regrets to inform that one upgraded Mirage 2000 aircraft crashed during the customer acceptance flight at HAL airport here (Bengaluru) today around 10.30 am resulting in loss of lives of two pilots Sqn Ldr Sameer Abrol and Sqn Ldr Siddartha Negi," HAL said in a statement on Friday.

HAL has initiated an inquiry into the accident in coordination with the IAF in which Squadron Leader Siddhartha Negi from Dehradun and Squadron Leader Samir Abrol from Ghaziabad were killed. Though both pilots ejected, they landed on the wreckage, officials said.

Soon after the crash, videos of thick black smoke, taken from residential apartments and nearby roads were circulated on social media. Though emergency services reached the crash site within minutes, the two pilots could not be saved. The flight data recorder, more commonly known as the black box was recovered from the crash site by officials.

Negi was commissioned into the IAF in June 2009 and Abrol was commissioned in June 2008. HAL has been upgrading the Mirage fleet under contract from 2015 and flew the Final Operational Configuration (FOC) of the upgraded Mirage 2000 aircraft on 28 July 2016.

The accident on Friday adding to problems of the IAF which continues to see its fleet strength deplete in recent times due to outdated technology and crashes among several other reasons that are key to plug in the capability deficit.

India’s sanctioned squadron strength is 42, which has dipped to 31, Air Chief Marshal Birender Singh Dhanoa said in September last year. There have been several fighter aircraft accidents in recent times as well. A Jaguar aircraft of the IAF crashed in Kushinagar district of Uttar Pradesh on 28 January, making it the third accident by this model of twin engine aircraft, Press Trust of India reported.

HAL is upgrading the Mirage 2000 fleet. A statement at the time said that the FOC configuration covers the integration of Indian specific weapons, sensors and EW system. HAL said that the FOC upgrade on Mirage 2000 gives additional capability of air to ground weapon, training, helmet mounted display etc. The total design and development was done by HAL which includes mission computer hardware, OFP software, system design, aircraft modification etc. The Company is responsible for the IOC and FOC upgrade of the Mirage fleet of IAF.

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