Since this story was published, the fatalities from this crash have risen to seven. Read the latest article here.
BUDGAM, Jammu & Kashmir — Two eye-witnesses told HuffPost India that they saw a military aircraft skim low over a cluster of civilian homes in the Garand locality of Budgam district before crashing into the open fields and bursting into flames. The crash site is a short 30-minute drive from downtown Srinagar.
Two pilots and a civilian, 20 year old Qifayat Hussain, were killed in the crash, according to eye-witnesses Ghulam Ahmed and Sarwar Hussain, both of whom claim to be residents of Garand. When this correspondent visited the site of the crash at 12:00 PM on Wednesday afternoon, security forces were still trying to put out the last of the flames from the wreckage.
There is some confusion about the exact nature of the crashed aircraft: While villagers said they saw a “plane”, media reports suggest that downed craft is actually an Mi-17 helicopter. From the wreckage, this correspondent was unable to establish its provenance.
“We are taking stock of things. The bodies have been recovered and are being examined by the forensics team,” said a senior police officer near the crash site. “We have recovered three bodies, two appear to be pilots.”
The aircraft is believed to belong to the Indian Air Force, but the Ministry of Defence has neither acknowledged the crash, nor announced the loss of two pilots.
In a press conference in Islamabad, Pakistan military spokesperson, Major General Asif Ghafoor, said the Pakistan military was not responsible for the crash.
“There are reports of crash of an Indian aircraft on the Indian side (in Budgam), we had no engagement with that aircraft,” Ghafoor said, as per an ANI report.
At a press briefing at a little after 3 PM, Indian officials confirmed the loss of a MiG 21 fighter jet at the Line of Control, but did not take any questions or provide any information on the Budgam crash.
The crash comes at a time of rapidly escalating India-Pakistan tensions. The tensions began immediately after 40 Indian troopers were killed in a suicide bomb attack in Srinagar on 14 February 2019. Yesterday, on 26 February, the Indian government said it had struck terrorist bases deep in Pakistan territory.
Today, Pakistan released an official statement saying it had entered Indian airspace, and had separately shot down two Indian aircraft — one in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir, and one in India. This claim has not been confirmed by India.
The Budgam crash is believed to be unrelated to these two claims by Pakistan.
“The craft almost crashed into the houses but it finally fell into the field few feet away from our homes,” said Ghulam Ahmed, using the urdu word “jehaz” — which applies to all kinds of aircraft. “I was on the street when this happened and saw Qifayat trying to escape. But it all happened so fast that he couldn’t outrun the jet,”
Ahmed and Sarwar Hussain, another eyewitness, said they heard two separate explosions — a bang, followed by a showering of aircraft parts, while the aircraft was still airborne — and then a a much louder explosion when the plane hit the ground.
The crash occurred between 9:00 AM and 10:00 AM this morning, according to a crowd of villagers who spoke to HuffPost India when this correspondent visited the crash site at 12:00 PM today.
The villagers said a team compromising army troopers, state police, and a forensics team arrived at the site almost immediately and dragged the bodies of the pilots from the wreckage.
Villagers said that Qifayat Hussain, the 20-year-old killed in the crash, worked as a daily wager who affixed metal shutters on shop fronts for a living. Hussain studied up to Class 9, and dropped out of school when his father died. He is survived by his mother, and three sisters. The villagers, who appeared very upset by his death, said Hussain had gone out into the fields to sun himself when he was hit by the aircraft.
This story has been updated to reflect confusion around the exact nature of the aircraft — helicopter or jet plane. HuffPost India will update this story once we have more details on the crash.