On the occasion of the 86th anniversary of the Indian Air Force, NICHOLA PAIS relives the heroic rescues of our life-savers in blue
There’s something about our boys and girls in blue. It’s difficult – some would say, impossible – to stay unmoved by their feats. These brave souls who hone their skills to razor-sharp precision, who push the levels of human endurance, who secure Indian air space and bravely conduct aerial warfare during armed conflict… And this is just part of what they do. More hearteningly, besides participating in United Nation’s peacekeeping missions, the IAF, with its highly trained crews, pilots, and access to modern military assets, provides rapid response evacuation, search-and-rescue (SAR) operations, and delivery of relief supplies to affected areas via cargo aircraft. Yes, the IAF saves lives, under the severest conditions. What could be more honourable or courageous!
And yet, always the tone of joyful duty. Take Dhananjay Pralhad Gole, who served in the IAF for 15 years between 1978 to 1993. As Squadron Leader, he served in Jorhat between 1979 and 1992 on supply-dropping missions in Arunachal Pradesh. Gole prefers to dwell on the “camaraderie, the friendships and the desire to serve the nation,” instead of focusing on the heroics. Flashing a smile he affirms, “The IAF equipped me to be a professional pilot, a responsible citizen and a selfless human being. It gave me the tools to succeed in whatever I chose to do in life and the confidence to believe in myself.”
Pradeep Kumar, ex-Corporal who served on the IAF for 8 years, remembers the many highs as part of different operations. He too prefers to play it down, maintaining, “The IAF has always helped me learn new things and ways to live in different and difficult conditions. It has also given opportunities for higher education while serving.”
The Indian Air force, officially established on October 8, 1932, is indeed our pride and joy. Its complement of personnel and aircraft assets ranks fourth amongst the air forces of the world. What’s more, in a world severely depleted of real heroes, it keeps alive the flame of real hope. Here’s saluting some of the IAF’s most heartening rescue operations…
1) October 1992 saw a shocking accident on the hills of Parwanoo, Himachal Pradesh. The overhead cable at Timber Trails broke, sending the car racing down the line. Two people fell to their deaths. The car came to a screeching halt, its petrified occupants suspended hanging 1500 feet above the ground. Major Ivan Joseph Crasto (later Colonel) and Group Capt. (later Air Chief Marshal) F.H. Major of the 152 Helicopter Unit (HU), IAF were the angels who rushed in, pulling off a daring rescue. Hovering in the helicopter above the car, battling cross winds, fatigue and tension, they saved 10 lives.
2) The Tsunami of 2004 had devastated the shores of Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Thailand, South India and Maldives. Operations Sea Wave, Rainbow and Castor was launched by the Armed Forces for relief, rescue and evacuation. Using available aircraft, the IAF mounted a massive relief and rescue operation, as well as rehabilitating the runway and the supporting flight infrastructure to enable relief flights to land. All this, even as many of them dealt with the loss of their own families, friends and colleagues in the tragedy. Naval amphibious warfare vessels and landing craft were deployed to deliver aid to survivors on remote islands who had been rendered homeless by the tsunami.
3) Operation Maitri was the rescue and relief operation in Nepal, conducted by the Indian armed forces in the aftermath of the earthquake of 2015. The IAF mobilised various aircraft in rescue and relief efforts, rescuing citizens and airlifting teams of doctors, nurses, and paramedics, engineering task forces, water, food, equipment, etc.
4) On September 27 and 28 this year, the IAF once again pulled off a daredevil rescue operation in Himachal Pradesh. They rescued 119 civilians including 52 children aged 9-10 years and 45 members of a medical team, from a challenging and inhospitable terrain.
5) Consequent to an earthquake in Minahassa Peninsula this September, measuring 7.5 on the Richter scale, a tsunami hit Indonesia. IAF embarked on a humanitarian and disaster relief mission to Indonesia, providing assistance to the earthquake and tsunami victims. As part of the Samudra Maitri operation, medical personnel and relief material were promptly delivered to the beleaguered country.
6) In September this year, a team of trekkers fell into a crevasse in the Kolahai Glacier area. While two members were fatally injured, a third had suffered injuries which required his immediate evacuation to a medical facility. Again it was the IAF to the rescue, as they launched two Cheetah helicopters. Despite the elevation at 12000 feet, which added to the piloting difficulties, the individual was safely evacuated to Srinagar.
7) The IAF played a key role in rescuing individuals from far-flung and remotely accessible parts of Kerala, during the recent floods. With a number of aircraft being pressed into action, they also helped deliver much-needed relief material to the flood-hit state.
8) Operation Rahat was one of the biggest civilian rescue operations ever carried out in the world. Carried out by the Indian Air Force to evacuate civilians affected by the floods in Uttarakhand in 2013, a total of around 20,000 people were air-lifted using helicopters. The IA had flown a total of 2,140 sorties, dropping a total of 3,82,400 kg of relief material and equipment.