NEW DELHI, India (AP) _ A fighter jet crashed and exploded in a giant fireball at ceremonies honoring the Indian air force Sunday after the pilot apparently misjudged the plane's altitude and tried an extra acrobatic maneuver, officials said.

About 2,000 military and civilian dignitaries, journalists and other guests watched in horror as the French-designed Mirage 2000 plunged to earth about 300 yards from a reviewing stand, killing the pilot.

No one on the ground was killed. Some spectators suffered sprained ankles or bruises while running either toward or away from the burning wreckage.

The silver delta-winged aircraft was completing a maneuver known as a ''vertical Charlie,'' the finale of a 20-minute aerial display of 22 of the air force's supersonic fighters, transport and training aircraft.

An inquiry was ordered to determine what caused the crash, the first major accident at an Indian military airshow.

The pilot was identified as Ramesh Bakshi, the 39-year-old commander of the Mirage squadron.

Air Force Chief Marshal S.K. Mehra told reporters the accident apparently was due to ''an error in judgment.'' Mehra said the sky was very hazy and Bakshi may have miscalculated the jet's altitude.

When the pilot started to pull up, Mehra said, the plane was about 18 feet from the ground. If the jet had been 12 feet higher, Bakshi probably could have made it, he said.

''He was one of our most experienced pilots,'' Mehra said.

The Mirage was completing the final flyby of Indian Air Force Day, marking the 57th anniversary of the Indian air force and honoring its 115,000 enlisted men. The ceremony was held at the military section of Palam Airport in west New Delhi, and all civilian flights were halted during the show.

The aircraft slammed into the ground, exploded and bounced three times through fuel tanks on the ground, igniting a giant fireball. Two buses caught fire and several trucks and other vehicles in the area were badly damaged by burning chunks of debris.

The Mirage is capable of flying up to 1,460 mph at an altitude of 65,600 feet. The first Mirages came off the assembly line in 1966.

The Indian air force acquired 49 Mirage 2000 fighters between 1982 and 1986. The jets are considered an essential part of India's fleet, which includes other French-designed aircraft and some of the Soviet Union's most sophisticated planes, helicopters and fighters.

Military experts from NATO and Warsaw Pact countries have rated the skills of Indian air force pilots among the world's best. But they gave them low marks for aircraft maintenance.

At least 30 accidents, most involving the Soviet-made MiG-27 fighters, have occurred in the past four years.