SHIMLA/NEW DELHI: A MiG-21 fighter jet crashed in a village in Himachal Pradesh's Kangra district today, killing an Indian Air Force pilot, officials said.
The aircraft, which was on a routine sortie, crashed at around 1.20 pm, about an hour after taking off from Pathankot air base on a routine sortie, an IAF spokesperson said.
Squadron Leader Meet Kumar, who was flying the Russian origin MiG-21 Bis aircraft died in the accident, he said, adding a Court of Inquiry (COI) has been ordered into it.
Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman expressed "deep grief" over death of the pilot.
"Our heartfelt condolences to the family of brave pilot Sqn Ldr Meet Kumar, who we lost in the fateful crash," she said.
Kangra's Superintendent of Police Santosh Patial said the aircraft crashed in Mehra Palli village under Jawali police station.
Deputy Commissioner Sandeep Kumar, quoting eyewitnesses, said the pilot appeared to have ensured that no harm was caused to the civilian population by steering the aircraft away from the area.
"He steered the aircraft towards the fields before it crashed to save the civilians and lost his life in the process," he added.
Himachal Pradesh Chief Minister Jai Ram Thakur also expressed grief over the death of the pilot.
The MiG-21 jets were inducted into IAF over four decades back and many of these planes were lost in crashes.
Currently the IAF has only one squadron (18 aircraft) of the variant which the force is planning to retire in the next one-and-half to two years.
The IAF has been grappling with rising incidents of accidents involving its flying platforms.
Replying to a question on incidents of air crash, Minister of State for Defence Subhash Bhamre told the Lok Sabha that a total of 25 accidents involving IAF aircraft were reported since 2015-16.
According to data provided by him, a total of 39 people died in the accidents and that IAF lost all the aircraft involved in the crashes.
He said there were five accidents involving aircraft of the Army during the period in which four people were killed.
On June 5, an air commodore of the IAF died when the Jaguar fighter jet he was piloting crashed in Gujarat's Kutch district. Two IAF pilots were killed in a crash of a microlight aircraft in Assam's Majuli on February 15.
A Mi-17 helicopter of the IAF had crashed near Tawang in Arunachal Pradesh on October 6 last year, killing seven military personnel on board.