A Soviet-era fighter jet of the Indian Air Force crashed Tuesday morning, killing its pilot and raising fresh questions about the MiG-21 aircraft that has been involved with many fatal accidents in India.
On Tuesday morning one of India’s MiG-21 Bisons took off for a training sortie from an air force base in Srinagar in the state of Jammu and Kashmir then crashed about 10 kilometers short of another air force base in the northern state, an air force official said.
“A court of inquiry has been ordered to determine the cause of the crash,” the official said.
The accident happened just as India’s new defense minister, Arun Jaitley, assumed office. Mr. Jaitley—who has also been appointed as the country’s minister of finance and corporate affairs minister—said he would only hold the position for a short time until a new defense minister is appointed.
In December the air force began phasing out the MiG-21 which has been its combat backbone for decades. The aircraft has been nicknamed the flying coffin because it has been connected to so many crashes. In 2012, India announced that more than 200 people including 171 pilots have lost their lives in accidents with the MiG series of aircraft since 1971.
The air force had been hoping that the body count would go down with the addition in recent years of new aircraft–including Russia’s Sukhoi Su-30 fighter jets and Boeing Co.’s P-8I long-range maritime patrol and anti-submarine warfare jets.
India has yet to decide on whether it will go through with its decision to purchase 126 Rafale fighter jets from Dassault Aviation S.A. of France as one of the aircraft to replace the MiG-21. India had around 250 MiG-21 planes as of last December.
India’s other armed forces have also been hit by accidents in the last year.
In March, a Lockheed Martin Corp. C-130J Super Hercules transport plane crashed in central India, killing all five air force personnel on board. The same month, an engineer was killed in an accident at a construction site building a submarine for the navy.
On Feb. 26, the country’s naval chief, Admiral D.K. Joshi, resigned to take responsibility for recent accidents, including a fire on a submarine earlier that day that left two crew members dead.
The most damaging accident happened last August when 18 sailors died after explosions and a fire swept through a submarine in a Mumbai dockyard.