Indian air force plane crashes, killing 5 on board

NEW DELHI (AP) -- An Indian air force cargo plane inducted into service three years ago crashed during a training mission Friday, killing all five crew members in the latest in a series of accidents that have hit the Indian armed forces.

The C-130J Hercules plane went down 115 kilometers (72 miles) west of Gwalior air base in central India and the cause wasn't immediately known, Group Capt. Gerard Galway said.

Air force, police and fire brigade teams reached the site of the crash near Karauli village in Madhya Pradesh state. The aircraft's black box was recovered and investigative efforts will now focus on what led to the crash, officials said.

India's air force chief, Air Chief Marshal Arup Raha, said the plane had been used in difficult situations during the past three years, such as to rescue people from devastating floods in the Himalayan foothills and landing in harsh terrain on the India-China border.

He appeared to discount the possibility of pilot error.

"Needless to say, the best pilots have been chosen to fly these aircraft," Raha said.

India bought six C-130J aircraft from U.S.-based Lockheed-Martin at a cost of $1.1 billion three years ago.

Navy chief Adm. D.K. Joshi resigned last month to take responsibility for accidents in that service branch. Days later, a gas leak on a destroyer being built at a Mumbai dockyard killed a navy commander and sickened two workers.

Last August, another Russian-made diesel-powered submarine caught fire after an explosion and sank at port in Mumbai, killing all 18 sailors on board.

In December, the INS Talwar, a Russian-built stealth frigate, slammed into a trawler off India's west coast, sinking the boat and tossing 27 fishermen into the sea. All of the fishermen were rescued.

Another navy frigate ran aground near the Mumbai naval base in January, damaging some equipment. And the INS Airavat, an amphibious warfare vessel, ran aground earlier last month.

India also sent two C-130J planes to participate in the search for a Malaysia Airlines plane lost in the southern Indian Ocean. It was not immediately clear if the plane that crashed Friday had been involved in the search.

Sameer Patil, a security expert with the Indian Council on Global Relations, a Mumbai-based think tank, said Friday's crash would be a major setback for the Indian air force.

"After years of delay, the fleet is undergoing expansion in critical airlift capabilities. Hence, a loss such as this is particularly worrisome," Patil said.

India has become the world's biggest arms importer as it pushes to modernize its military and replace its obsolete Soviet-era weapons.

The purchases were also spurred by crashes of almost 55 percent of its front-line MiG fleet acquired from the former Soviet Union.

With national elections starting in less than two weeks, opponents were quick to attack the government for the accidents, saying it had to investigate if there was any negligence involved.

"This is absolutely a shocking incident," said Prakash Javadekar, spokesman of the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party.

"The Hercules is such a sturdy aircraft it doesn't meet with such kind of accidents. The government needs to own responsibility for this state of affairs," he told reporters.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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