NEW DELHI   -   India’s jittery air force said Friday it accidentally shot down one of its own helicopters as it engaged Pakistani fighter planes in an aerial confrontation in Indian-occupied Kashmir in February.

Air Chief Rakesh Singh Bhaduria said “it was a big mistake.”

Six air force personnel were killed in the crash, which occurred close to the airport on the outskirts of the region’s main city of Srinagar.

Bhaduria said the air force has completed an investigation of the incident and is taking punitive action against two officers.

The Press Trust of India news agency said a surface-to-air missile shot down the Mi-17 aircraft in Kashmir on Feb 27.

Bhadauria said the Mi-17 Indian Air Force (IAF) helicopter that crashed in Jammu and Kashmir’s Budgam on February 27 was hit by an Indian missile.

A surface-to-air missile of the IAF brought down the Mi-17 aircraft in Budgam in the Kashmir Valley, killing six IAF personnel on board the chopper and a civilian on the ground.

The court of inquiry (CoI) ordered into the incident has completed its probe and it has been established that the helicopter was hit by the IAF’s own missile, said Bhadauria who took over as chief of the Air Force on Monday.

“It has been established that the helicopter was hit by our own missile. We have already taken administrative action. Disciplinary action is being taken against two officers. We admit that it was a big mistake and necessary steps have been taken so that such incident does not recur,” said Bhadauria in the first admission by the air force about the incident.

Administrative action has already been taken against four officers held responsible for the helicopter crash by the CoI. Separately, disciplinary action like court martial procedures is being initiated against two senior officers, IAF officials said.

The probe found there were “vital gaps” in communication and coordination between the ground staff and the crew of the chopper. It also found violations of standard operating procedures.

The helicopter was flown by Squadron Leader Siddharth Vashisht with other members Squadron Leader Ninad Mandvgane, Kumar Pandey, Sergeant Vikrant Sehrawat, Corporals Deepak Pandey and Pankaj Kumar. It crashed at Budgam after taking off from Srinagar airport at 10.10 am on February 27.

Earlier, military sources said the probe found that the ‘Identification of Friend or Foe’ (IFF) system on-board the helicopter was switched off and there were “vital gaps” in communication and coordination between the ground staff and the crew of the chopper. The IFF helps air defence radars identify whether an aircraft or helicopter is friendly or hostile.

The helicopter crashed in Budgam around 10 am on February 27 when Indian and Pakistani fighter jets were engaged in fierce aerial combat in Nowshera. The helicopter went down around 10 minutes after taking off.

Official sources said the helicopter was asked to return because of the dogfight 100 km away from Srinagar. A missile was fired at the helicopter as the IAF ground staff thought it was an enemy chopper.

In early May, the IAF transferred the Air Officer Commanding (AOC) of Srinagar base to ensure a thorough probe into the incident.

Pakistan Armed Forces spokesperson Major General Asif Ghafoor had then said Islamabad had no involvement in the crash. “There are reports of crash of an Indian aircraft on the Indian side, we had no engagement with that aircraft,” he said.