A PLUME of smoke and fire are seen coming from the area where the F-16 crashed on Wednesday.—AFP
A PLUME of smoke and fire are seen coming from the area where the F-16 crashed on Wednesday.—AFP

ISLAMABAD: A Pakis­tan Air Force F-16 aircraft crashed on Wednesday in Shakarparian — the federal capital’s urban wilderness — while participating in rehearsal for the coming Pakistan Day parade on March 23.

The pilot of the aircraft, Wing Commander Nouman Akram, the Officer Commanding of PAF Base Mushaf stationed 9 Squadron, was martyred in the crash. There was no loss of life or damage to property on ground.

The crash was filmed by some people witnessing the aerobatics being performed by the PAF fighter jet. In the video clips, which then went viral on social media, the aircraft could be seen performing a vertical loop manoeuvre before going down. Plume of smoke could later be seen billowing into the sky.

The overhead high-tension electrical wires at the place of crash were damaged by the falling aircraft.

Rescue services immediately reached the site of the crash. A large number of people who saw the plane plummeting also rushed to the site to help.

PAF forms board of inquiry to determine cause of the accident

The PAF, while announcing the accident, said: “A board of inquiry has been ordered by Air Headquarters to determine the cause.”

A team of PAF experts later visited the crash site for collecting evidence. The visit was, however, cut short by heavy late afternoon downpour. The team covered parts of the wreckage before leaving. The area was cordoned off by police to prevent public access to the site and preserve evidence.

Speculations about the cause of accident, in the meantime, made the rounds. Some thought the accident happened because of the aircraft hitting the power lines while on steep dive. Others thought it occurred because of onset of gravity induced loss of consciousness (G-LOC) during aerobatics.

“One big possibility is that the pilot blacked out. The loop puts a lot of Gz stress on the pilot. A blackout of a few seconds when close to the ground is all it takes to crash,” an aviation expert said while commenting on the possibility of G-LOC causing the crash.

However, there could be technical reasons like malfunction of engine, unresponsive flight controls or even material damage to the aircraft during the manoeuvres. A final conclusion would be possible after recovery of flight recorder and accident analysis.

Wing Commander Akram was a highly experienced pilot and was last year awarded the PAF’s coveted Sher Afgan Trophy for being the best marksman at the inter-squadron competition.

The crashed aircraft was F-16A, mid-life upgrade version.

The crash was the second air accident linked to March 23 parade. A PAF Mirage aircraft crashed while participating in the parade on March 23, 1987 after hitting a bird. Flt Lt Saeed Iqbal was martyred on that occasion.

Prime Minister Imran Khan, in a statement, expressed grief over the martyrdom of the pilot.

Army Chief Gen Qamar Bajwa, in a statement issued by the ISPR, said: ‪”Laying one’s life is the ultimate sacrifice one can make for defence of the motherland. May his soul rest in peace. My thoughts and sincere prayers for the bereaved family. ”

The PAF has suffered four crashes this year. Earlier, in January an FT-7 aircraft crashed near Mianwali on an operational training mission in which both pilots were martyred. Later in February a Mirage crashed near Shorkot and a trainer aircraft near Takht Bhai. Pilots in both accidents in February ejected safely.

Last year in July an aircraft belonging to Army Aviation crashed into a populated area in the suburbs of Rawalpindi killing 17 on ground.

Published in Dawn, March 12th, 2020