For decades now, there has been a grim inevitability about the periodic news of another, and then yet another, crash of the Indian Air Force’s (IAF’s) frontline MiG-21 fighter, all too often accompanied by the bleak announcement that the pilot, often two of them, had been unable to bale out and lost their lives. The statistics are astonishing: Of the 874 MiG-21 fighter variants that entered the IAF service since 1963, more than 400 — or almost half the overall number — were lost to crashes. Some 200 IAF pilots lost their lives in these flying accidents because, for one reason or another, they were unable to eject and parachute to safety. There are now only a few dozen of these fighters remaining in IAF service but the crash of a twin-seater MiG-21 Type 69 trainer near Barmer on Sunday demonstrated that they continue to extract a ghastly toll of young lives.
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