Unfortunate Crash of a Braveheart
By Rear Admiral Sushil Ramsay (Retd.)

The Dornier, Do-228, belonging to the Indian Navy Air Squadron 310 and based at INS Hansa in Goa took-off at 6.30 pm on Tuesday, March 24, 2015 on a routine night training sortie. After successfully flying for over two and half hours the aircraft lost contact from ATC at 10.08 pm and crashed into the seaapproximately 25 nautical miles off Goa coast.Commander Nikhil Kuldip Joshi withflying experience of 4,000 hours was the Captain of the ill-fated Dornier. The other two officers on board were a co-pilot and a Lady Officer as the Observer (known as Navigator in IAF).

While there was no distress call from the aircraft before the crash, Commander Joshi was sighted by a fisherman an hour after the accident and was picked up by a fishing boat, Niharika – from a fishing hamlet off the Karwar coast. He was immediately transferred to the Naval Fast Interceptor Craft. He is presently convalescing in naval hospital INHSPatanjali at Karwar and was reported to be stable.

The families (Next of Kin) of the missing personnel were informed immediately and the search and rescue operations were continuing. With each passing hour, the area of search was being widened taking the tidal conditions into account. As of Wednesday, March, 25, 2015 evening, the search area spanned close to 20,000 square kilometres.

Eight Naval ships and four aircraft were immediately deployed to search and locate the remaining two officers. The number of ships on the search and rescue mission was soon augmented to 12 ships, including two ships from Indian Coast Guard and four aircraft. As is mandatory, a Board of Inquiry has been constituted to investigate into the circumstances leading to the accident.

Early on Wednesday, March 25, 2015 Admiral RK Dhowan, Chief of the Naval Staff, flew down to Goa and took stock of the search and rescue operations. He also met the families of the aircrew and visited Commander NK Joshi at INHSPatanjaliat Karwar before returning to Delhi in the evening.

The debris of the crashed Dornier was sighted on Tuesday, March 24, 2015.Sources involved in the rescue had earlier reported receiving signals from a life jacket equipped with a personal locator beacon. Soon thereafter, INS Makar, a naval hydrographic vessel detected a large metallic object around 60 metres deep in the sea off Goa, suspected to be the fuselage of the crashed aircraft. The Navy divers were soon pressed into deep sea diving and searching the area where debris was sighted. Consequently, by the evening the body of Lt Kiran Shekhawat was extracted from the fuselage of the ill-fated aircraft. The detection at great depths in the area was possible by employing side-scan sonars of INS Makar.

Lt Kiran Shekhawat who was part of 42-strong women Observers, is the first Lady Officer to have died in an air crash. She is a brave daughter of a retired Master Chief Petty Officer, Writer II (equivalent rank of a Junior Commissioned Officer of Army) VS Shekhawat and is married to Lt Vivek Singh Chokker, who is currently serving in Indian Naval Academy, Ezhimala.

The Dornier Do 228 is a twin-turboprop Short Take-off and Landing (STOL) utility aircraft, manufactured by Dornier GmbH (later DASA Dornier, Fairchild-Dornier) from 1981 until 1998. In 1983, Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd. (HAL) bought a production licence and manufactured 125 aircraft for the Asian markets.

In October 2014, HAL received an order for 12 Do-228 maritime surveillance and patrol aircraft from the Indian Navy. In February 2015, this was followed by another order for 14 Do-228 aircraft, including six engines and a simulator from the Indian Air Force.In 2011, the Bangladesh Navy had ordered two Do 228NG for the surveillance, search and rescue missions. The aircraft were delivered on June 3, 2013.

Acquired in late 1990s, 36 Dornier aircraft are operated by the Indian Navyfor search and rescue, maritime reconnaissance, surveillance and commuter duties.This is the first ever accident when a Dornier aircraft has been lost. This is the shining example of the reliability and air worthiness of the aircraft to operate under differently trying conditions. The Dornier aircraft continues to render Yeoman’s service to the Indian Navy, Indian Coast Guard and the Indian Air Force. The aircraft has received raving tributes on its operational capabilities both from the current and the Veteran Aviators. Dornier aircraft was extensively deployed both during Operations Vijay and Parakaram and has earned accolades for its outstanding contributions. In fact, for its stellar performance during Op Vijay, Dornier Squadron INAS 310 was awarded the Unit Citation by the Chief of the Naval Staff.