4 Mar 2002
NEW DELHI, MARCH. 4. Pakistani forces opened fire and hit an Air Force AN-32 transport aircraft carrying V.K. Bhatia, Air Officer Commanding-in-Chief, Western Air Command, in the Kargil sector in the last week of February as he was inspecting troop preparedness on the border, highly-placed defence sources said.
Air Marshal Bhatia's aircraft was hit in the Dras- Kargil sector, where Pakistani gunners still occupy some vantage heights on their side of the Line of Control, causing minor damage with the pilot manoeuvring it to land safely at Leh air base, they said.
The incident has caused ripples in the Defence Ministry with the Chief of Air Staff, S. Krishnaswamy, taking serious note of it and ordering a court of inquiry.
The Indian forces, as part of the border mobilisation, are undertaking an exercise labelled ``Operation Trishul'' in the area.
It was not clear what hit the aircraft which strangely was flying low, close to the LoC. The AN-32s on their normal Srinagar to Leh run fly at an altitude of more than 8,000 metres and keep a buffer of 15-20 km away from the LoC.
According to experts, it was probably either small arms fire or medium guns which must have hit the VVIP IAF aircraft as any hit by shoulder-fired Stinger missiles would have meant a sure downing of the fixed-wing aircraft.
Pakistani forces during ``Operation Vijay'' in 1999 had downed three IAF aircraft - an MiG-21, an MI-17 and a Canberra Photo Reconnaissance Aircraft - all by using the sophisticated American missiles acquired clandestinely during the Afghan war in the 1980s and 90s.
The incident has raised many questions on why the aircraft carrying the seniormost officer was flying so close to the LoC and why ground military intelligence had not forewarned about Pakistanis having positioned anti-aircraft guns. - PTI