It seems the Indian Air Force recently experienced a very puzzling accident involving one of its Sukhoi Su-30MKI aircraft when the ejection seats launched the two-man crew into thin air without so much as a "By your leave".
India has grounded its entire Sukhoi-30 fleet after a recent crash because it doesn’t want to put its pilots in harm’s way.
. . .
With the IAF operating close to 200 twin-engine Su-30s, the grounded planes represent almost a third of the country’s fighter fleet. India is due to get 72 more of these planes, each worth over Rs. 200 crore [more than US $40 million].
An IAF official said safety checks with “special focus on ejection seats” were being conducted and flight operations would resume only after each plane was cleared. A highly-placed source said the pilots of the plane that crashed on October 14 near Pune had reported “automatic seat ejection.” One of the two pilots was involved in a previous Su-30 crash too.
Five Su-30 fighters have crashed during the last five years, setting off alarm bells in the IAF. The Su-30 fleet has been grounded at least twice in the past.
Former IAF chief Air Chief Marshal Fali Major told HT, “A fleet is grounded when you have no clue as to what brought the plane down. It’s serious.”
There's more at the link. The aircraft doesn't look very badly damaged in the picture - it was on final approach, so it didn't have much time to go further out of control - but looking at the ruptured fuselage below the cockpit area, I have to doubt whether it'll fly again.
There are a number of puzzling elements here. How and why did the ejection seats fire uncommanded? Their circuits are very carefully designed to avoid that, even if they sustain battle damage. Also, I have to assume they were on a joint circuit, so that if one seat fired the other would automatically do so as well. If not, why did both fire rather than just one? Finally, why did they fire on final approach, when the aircraft's (presumably) not involved in high-speed, high-g maneuvers that stress the airframe and systems?
I can't imagine what it must have been like for the aircrew. One moment they're flying along, preparing to land, hands on the controls, busy with their checklists . . . and next moment they're in mid-air, wondering what the hell happened and how they got there!