The Crash of the fighter trainer Hawk aircraft of Indian Air Force made breaking news in July 2015, however few know that there have been at least a dozen crashes in the small area in the last few decades.
The triangle from Piarboda near Bankura to Chakulia in Jharkhand and Amarda Road Airfield in Odisha has seen many crashes since the airfields were set up in the last years of the World War II.
On the 4th May 1944, an American Liberator had collided with an Harvard de Havilland plane and crashed in flames at the Amarda Road airfield killing four crewmen. This spot is just 75 kms from Hawk aircraft’s crash site. On the night of 7th May 1944, another Liberator had taken off from Digri on a special mission and had crashed 20 minutes after takeoff killing 10 crewmen. Digri is only 100 kms from the present crash spot. Another De Havilland fighter had crashed after takeoff from the Amarda Road Station on the 13th May, 1944, but the crew was saved.
On the 28th October 1944, a Liberator had taken off on a night sortie and crashed near Salboni, approximately 90 kms from the present crash, killing eight of the crew. The biggest crash was on the 26th of July 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 severity of the collision and resulting crashes which happened an altitude of less than 2000 feet. The debris fell into paddy fields swollen from the monsoon rains. The exact spot is now in West Bengal, just 50 kms from yesterday’s crash site.
There are at least another half a dozen more crashes from these airfields in which the planes crashed in the Bay of Bengal and were never found. The allied forces had anticipated the Japanese onslaught from the North-East and a string of airfields were made 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.
Hundreds of aircraft which took part in the Burma operations were managed from here. The Burma operations and the China Hump operations had the highest causalities; the Hump route was termed as the graveyard of aircraft. One in six pilots who operated this route lost his life. In all 594 aircraft were lost, missing, or written off and 1,659 crewmen killed or went missing. In fact crash wrecks are still being discovered in the hills of Arunachal Pradesh and Meghalaya. Most of the airfields are now disused and forgotten.
Anil Dhir is an archaeology researcher. He is associated with INTACH and the chief project coordinator of INTACH Jagannath Sadak Project. He is also working as the National Secretary, Bharat Raksha Manch, Odisha.