Award Citation Details Phenomenal Escape From Doomed Su-30

On Feb 19 this year, an Indian Air Force Su-30 crashed in the deserts of Western India ahead of the 'Iron Fist' war game. Both pilots punched out safely, and the weapon systems operator in the rear cockpit has now been recommended for gallantry decoration. We now have the details of why. This detailed description of what happened has been released for the first time by the IAF. Amazing stuff:

On 19 Feb 2013, Wing Commander Gaurav Bikram Singh Chauhan was tasked to fly an Air to Ground strike mission over Pokharan Range. He was authorised to fly as a Weapon System Operator (WSO) onboard a Su-30 MKI aircraft laden with 18X100 kg bombs. The objective of the mission was to showcase the immense fire power and accuracy in weapon delivery of the Su-30 MKI in ‘Ex Iron Fist’. The mission which was undertaken by night was a part of the Full Dress Rehearsal for the final event.

The mission was executed by Wing Commander Gaurav Bikram Singh Chauhan where he was the WSO assisted his pilot in carrying out a flawless strike and made good the ‘Time on Target’ to employ his formidable weapon load. Subsequent to the trigger press by the most dramatic chain of event witnessed in recent aviation history.

The release of bombs from the aircraft was almost instantaneously accompanied with a loud explosion in the vicinity of the right wing. This was followed by the aircraft being engulfed in a large ball of fire and breaking up into several parts in mid-air. The explosion on the right wing caused it to be ripped off at the root and the aircraft viciously spiralled downwards in an uncontrolled trajectory with a very high rate of descent. Wing Commander Chauhan was hit in the face by shards of the canopy that shattered with the first explosion. This caused him to sustain several lacerations and wind blast injuries. Despite negligible vision in the darkness of the desert sky which was further obscured by facial bleeding caused by his injuries, he made a superhuman effort to push himself against the burning railing of the cockpit, accessed the ejection handle and successfully operated it. This resulted in both the pilots ejecting safely.

Eye witness accounts and video footage of the incident indicate the undeniable presence of a large explosion near the wing. In face of such a unprecedented situation wherein the aircraft bursts into flames with no warning of impending failure Wing Commander Gaurav Bikram Singh Chauhan displayed exceptional courage, situational awareness, uncommon reflexes, in extricating himself and crew member from a distressed aircraft.

For his act of exceptional courage and presence of mind in the face of potentially catastrophic and life threatening situation, Wing Commander Gaurav Bikram Singh Chauhan is recommended for the award of Vayu Sena Medal (Gallantry).

This was the fourth crash of an IAF Su-30 MKI. The previous three were on 13 Dec 2011, November 2009 and 30 April 2009.

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