Odisha Sun Times Bureau
Bhubaneswar, Jun 5:
While a court of inquiry has been ordered and experts from Indian Air Force (IAF) have joined the investigation to ascertain the cause behind the crash of the advanced trainer Hawk aircraft in Odisha’s Mayurbhanj district on Wednesday, the mishap was only the latest in a series of such incidents in what is known as India’s very own ‘Bermuda Triangle’.
As per military historians, at least a dozen aircraft have crashed in the small triangle formed by Piardoba near Bankura in West Bengal to Chakulia in Jharkhand and Amarda Road Airfield in Odisha. There have been many crashes in the area due to the large number of airfields that were set up in the last years of the World War II.
“On May 4, 1944, an American Liberator had collided with a Harvard Havilland plane and went up in flames at the Amarda Road airfield, which is just 75 km from Wednesday’s crash site, killing four crewmen,” said war historian Anil Dhir.
“Three days later, on the night of May 7, 1944, another Liberator had taken off from Digri on a special mission and had crashed 20 minutes after take off killing 10 crewmen. Digri is only 100 km from the present crash spot. Another De Havilland fighter had crashed after take off from the Amarda Road Station on May 13, 1944, but the crew was saved,” he added.
Citing another example, Dhir said, on October 28, 1944, a Liberator had taken off on a night sortie and crashed near Salboni, approximately 90 km from the present crash site, killing eight crew members.
According to him, the worst-ever mishap till date over this region was in 1945 when 18 people died.
“The worst-ever crash took place on July 26, 1945 when two British Royal Air Force B-24 Liberator four-engine bombers (EW225 and EW247) had collided at low altitude. The aircrafts were based at the Amarda Road airfield and were part of a six-plane contingent from the Air Fighting Training Unit engaged in a formation flying exercise. Fourteen airmen – the crews of the two aircraft – died due to the severe collision that happened at an altitude of less than 2000 feet. The debris fell into paddy fields swollen by the monsoon rains. The exact spot is now in West Bengal, just 50 km from Wednesday’s crash site,” the historian said.
Besides, there were a few more crashes in which aircraft flying from the airfields here had crashed in the Bay of Bengal and were never found, he pointed out.
The Allied forces had anticipated a Japanese onslaught through the North-East and a string of airfields were built in the region. These included the airfields at Jharsuguda, Amarda Road, Charbatia, Hijli, Dudhkundi, Digri, Salua, Chakulia, Kalaikunda and Bishnupur. Amarda Road was the biggest of these airfields. Hundreds of aircraft were stationed in these airfields and the entire Burma operations were managed from here.
The Burma operations and the China Hump operations had the highest casualties; the Hump route was termed as the graveyard of aircraft. In all, 594 aircraft were lost, went missing, or were written off and 1,659 crewmen killed or went missing. Most of the airfields are now disused and forgotten.