Six gallant angels who came down from the skies to rescue lives in peril have been decorated with Vayu Sena medal on Republic Day.
Wing commanders Anup Sharma, Pankaj Sharma, and corporal Momocha Ningthoujam, who saved many people in the Jammu and Kashmir floods; wing commander Amit Jain, who brought a mountaineer to safety; squadron leader Saurabh Raghuvanshi, who saved a village from a crashing MiG-21 fighter jet at the cost of his life; are the winners.
Flying an AN-32, wing commander Saurabh Sharma alone saved 40 lives at Kargil heights on April 1, 2014. During the transport support role (TSR) sortie that involved carrying 35 passengers in addition to a crew of five, the aircraft’s right propeller got locked during descent towards Kargil. As more warning lights, including “low oil” signal, came on, it was a multiple emergencies scenario, with the aircraft in the hills close to the Line of Control (LoC). The co-pilot was under training. The exceptional courage of the wing commander saved the lives on board when he executed a single-engine landing after critical engine failure at a high altitude.
Courage taller than peaks
Wing commander Amit Jain is from a Cheetah helicopter unit operating in the Siachen glacier. On July 18, 2014, he received a request from the Leh district administration for the search and rescue of a critically injured mountaineer who had fallen 40 feet from the Stok Kangri peak.
Leading a two-helicopter formation, his challenge was to locate the climber in inclement weather, in short time and with sketchy information. He located him at an altitude of 21,050 feet on a steep slope and in inhospitable terrain that tested the helicopter limits. He kept flying close to the casualty and encouraged the struggling mountaineers stuck in waist-deep snow to tow him towards the landing spot. Braving turbulent winds, he landed close to the casualty on the terrain marred with loose snow and crevasses. Short of time in the avalanche-prone area, he worked fast to save a life, displaying both courage and extraordinary flying skills.
Pilot against raging rivers
Mi-17 pilot wing commander Anup Sharma flew his rescue mission during Operation Megh Rahat on September 5, 2014, amid heavy rain in flood-affected Jammu region when the Tawi and Chenab rivers were in the spate. He improvised and launched the evacuation effort using rope ladder.
There was no space to land at Patyari village, and people were marooned in a small strip of land inside the Chenab river with tall trees and obstructions around. Amid reduced visibility, he maintained steady hover to rescue 14 people. He also rescued 23 Border Security Force troops at Katwari post surrounded by international border on three sides. In the total operations, he saved 244 marooned people, including 158 with the help of rope ladder from the raging rivers.
Stones flew but flying didn’t stop
In September 2014, Operation Megh Rahat started with the flood-rescue sorties of wing commander Pankaj Sharma of the Mi-17 V5 helicopter unit in Srinagar.
He flew extensively in the most exigent circumstances for helicopters, which included winching up of nearly 200 people, mass evacuation of flood-affected people, and dropping relief material. On September 7, 2014, he volunteered for the first rescue operation involving winching operations.
“Running against time, he rescued 25 people stranded on precarious rooftops of collapsing house in the heart of Srinagar; and, later, evacuated a critically ailing CRPF man from the secretariat amid heavy stone-pelting on the helicopter from hostile elements on ground.
Gave his life to save others
Flying a MiG-21 Bison fighter jet on a radar testing mission in the Northern region, squadron leader Saurabh Raghuvanshi of the Srinagar base experienced a bird hit that broke the front windshield and injured his face. Nearly incapacitated and with critical time available due to the extreme low altitude, he plotted the future flight path to realise his crashing aircraft would kill numerous villagers on the ground. Without fearing for his life, he steered the jet away from the village and ejected in a clear area. The brave pilot succumbed to the injuries on hitting the ground.
Air warrior hears the call
Corporal Momocha Ningthoujam of the air force Garud commando security unit was part of rescue operations in the flood-affected Jammu and Kashmir. On September 8, 2014, in Srinagar, he was winched down on a conical rooftop of a house.
“He had evacuated only three to four civilians when he spotted the adjacent three-floor building collapsing and some civilians stranded in it. He had to plead with the helicopter captain for permission to go in. Winched down, he saved four people from the semi-submerged house, carrying a paralysed old woman and two children on his shoulder to the top.
Winching up, he saw the house collapse under the force of swirling water.