Morarji Desai is remembered for various things (particularly his drinking habits and his birthday on February 29), and more seriously for being the first non-Congress Prime Minister (for what it is worth). He was also one of the few major political figures of India to escape a fatal plane crash (unlike Sardar Patel’s case in 1949 where no one was injured although the plane was written off).
A bit of legend has come up regarding this crash, citing the valiant crew of the IAF who “sacrificed their lives in order to save the passengers”. Things have not been helped because the results of inquiries into military aviation accidents are not generally released to the press.
In contrast, the DGCA now does put detailed accident reports on its website www.dgca.in
Click on the Aircraft tab and then Accident/Incident
Summaries of civil aviation accident reports going back to 1960 can also be seen there. You can even get this information back to 1950 through RTI.
Anyway, we come back to the crash of an IAF TU-124 near Jorhat on November 4, 1977. I was not able to obtain any Indian newspaper for that period. The basic details can be seen here:
The only picture available on the net:
As you can see, the front portion was badly damaged but the rest of the aircraft was relatively intact. The TU-124 was carrying 11 crew and 9 passengers. 5 of the crew in the front portion were killed while some of the passengers and other crew were injured, some seriously including the PM’s son Kanti and the then CM of Arunachal PK Thungon. The PM appears to have been unscathed.
Now the report of the inquiry commission headed by Air Marshal Subbiah does not seem to be available to the public. The next best reference may be this blogpost by a retired senior IAF officer:
Read it carefully. Many of the follow-up comments are of interest.
It does seem to be due to human error, but whether the crew or someone else in the IAF was responsible is still unclear.
The accident site appears to be near Takelagaon village near Bhalukmara railway station, about 10 km south-west of Jorhat airport.
Update: A first-person account written by one of the IAF officers who survived the crash It has a few more pictures:
Footnote: More about Morarji Desai here: