pA MiG-23 trainer fighter aircraft from the Hashimara airbase of Indian Air Force on Monday crashed near Alipurduar in north Bengal, but the two pilots bailed out to safety./ppThis is the seventh IAF aircraft crash this year and the third MiG to crash in the Dooars region of North Bengal./ppThe two pilots — Wing Commander Sisodia and Flight Lieutenant Karthik — were on a training sortie on the MiG-23 twin-seater jet when they took off from Hashimara in Jalpaiguri district at 1220 //ppWithin 15 minutes of take-off, the two pilots complained of trouble and the aircraft crashed at 1236 hours, IAF sources said here./pp”A MiG-23 trainer aircraft of IAF crashed near Air Force Station Hashimara on Monday. The aircraft had got airborne from Hashimara air base and was on a routine training-flying mission. The pilots ejected safely. The IAF has ordered a court of inquiry into the cause of the mishap,” an IAF official said in New Delhi/pspan class=”f12″pNo damage to civilian property or loss of lives was reported from the site of the crash, sources added./ppAlipurduar Additional Superintendent of Police Sabyasachi Mishra said the aircraft crashed at Nararthali area in his jurisdiction with the debris hitting a ‘kutcha’ house, setting it on fire./ppThe occupants of the house were working in the fields at the time. The debris of the fighter jet was scattered over a radius of 2 km. A search was on for the aircraft’s black box, Mishra added. /ppWith this mishap, the number of MiG crashes in 2008 rose to five. IAF has lost MiG-21s from Bhuj, Bagdogra and Chabua in Assam in the crashes on February 15, May 23 and November 12 respectively./ppIn the other crashes this year, a MiG-27 based in Hashimara was lost on January 31, ‘Hawk’ Advanced Jet trainer at Bidar on April 30 and a HPT ‘Kiran’ trainer aircraft on May 12 this year./ppThe Air Force has been facing problems with the Russian-designed MiG fighters./ppWith these aircraft flying with the IAF beyond their service life, the Air Headquarters has plans to replace them in about five years with 126 multi-role combat aircraft (MRCA) and the indigenously-built ‘Tejas’ Light Combat Aircraft (LCA), which is under development at HAL /br /While the MRCA are likely to be inducted before 2013, the LCA induction is scheduled for 2011./ppWith ageing combat aircraft being phased out, the IAF’s fighter fleet strength has come down drastically to 32 squadrons against the sanctioned strength of 39.5 squadrons./ppIn 2006, the number of squadrons went down to an alarming 29 squadrons, but has since then improved with induction of British-made ‘Hawks’ and raising of new Russian-made Sukhoi squadrons. /p/span

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